Fields: Ford can't slip to reverse
Preserving Mulally's culture is imperative
DETROIT -- If Mark Fields is going to fill Alan Mulally's shoes at Ford Motor Co., he can't allow the bad mojo Mulally banished from the culture to creep back in.
And he says a key indicator of Ford's culture is whether there is sniping and backbiting at meetings.
"I remember in the past, you'd be in a meeting, and somebody would say something snarky or use humor at the expense of somebody else," Fields said in an interview.
"Alan always made a big point whenever that happened to say: 'Hold on there, guys and gals, we have to stick to our One Ford behaviors.' He was able to politely remind everybody we have to walk the talk on the culture."
Last week, Ford's board named Fields to succeed Mulally, effective July 1. During his quarter century at Ford, Fields has seen the good, the bad and the ugly at a company once riven with petty rivalries, bickering and factionalism.
Mulally believes Fields is up to the job of preserving the culture of teamwork that Mulally instilled at Ford over the last eight years.
"He helped lead that change, starting with himself -- his authenticity, his transparency and honesty," Mulally said in an interview. "You're seeing Mark step up, and he's going to be the holder of the Ford culture. He's going to hold the culture in his hands."
Fields faces a long list of challenges. Ford is launching 23 vehicles this year, most prominently the aluminum F-150 pickup and the 2015 Mustang. Ford still has to prove it can execute launches smoothly and on time. The shift from steel to aluminum on the F-150 is one of the biggest industrial changeovers in Ford's history.
Fields also has to hold the talented executive team Mulally built. Executives such as Joe Hinrichs, Ford's president of the Americas, have the credentials to be CEOs, whether at Ford or somewhere else. Fields believes he can keep the team together.
"This is the strongest team I've ever had the honor to work with," he said.
"The key thing is to make sure we're all working on interesting work and that we have fun, and at the same time respect and trust each other along the journey.
"We have opportunities to accelerate some elements of our One Ford plan, and that's very energizing for the team. I'm there to help the team but not tell them what to do."
But preserving the Mulally culture could pose the biggest challenge.
Speaking to an auditorium filled with journalists and Ford employees last week, Fields recalled a meeting from the early days of Mulally's tenure at Ford.
Ford executives became embroiled in an interminable debate about how its business units and skill teams were going to work together.
"We were debating: Is this going to be a hard line or a dotted line?" Fields recalled.
After listening for 45 minutes, Fields recalled, Mulally got up, walked to the board and wrote in large letters: "Working together. Can't we just work together? Aren't we making this too hard?"
For Mark Fields, the hard job will be to keep the Ford culture easy.
You can reach Bradford Wernle at email@example.com.