BRADFORD WERNLE

Now Mark FIelds knows how Gene Bartow felt

COMMENTARY
Bradford Wernle is staff reporter for Automotive News.
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What do Gene Bartow, David Moyes, Tim Cook and Harry Truman have in common with new Ford CEO Mark Fields?

All had to follow legends. It’s Fields’ lot to succeed Alan Mulally. During eight years at Ford, Mulally transformed the company from a money-losing basket case into a global profit machine. In sports parlance, Mulally is a first ballot hall-of-famer.

In 1975, Bartow succeeded legendary basketball coach John Wooden, who ran up a still-unequaled record at UCLA, winning eight NCAA titles in nine years. Bartow posted a glowing 52-9 record in two years but failed to win any titles and resigned.

“After two years, he was gaunt and pale and he refused to read the Los Angeles newspapers or listen to the radio because there was so much negativity,” former player Marques Johnson once said.

The fiery Alex Ferguson managed Manchester United for 26 years, collecting a fistful of trophies. When he retired last year, Ferguson plucked Moyes from rival Everton to replace him at Man U, the Yankees of soccer. Though accomplished, Moyes lacked Ferguson’s charismatic flair. The team’s fortunes plummeted and he was fired after just 10 months.

When Apple’s mercurial, driven genius Steve Jobs died in 2011, Tim Cook succeeded him. Cook is a more congenial, approachable leader but he has yet to demonstrate Jobs’ knack for reinventing whole industries.

Fields might take heart from the plain-spoken Missouri native Harry Truman, who inherited the U.S. presidency when Franklin Roosevelt died in 1945. Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb remains controversial, but his Marshall Plan helped stricken European countries rebuild after the war.

The day after learning of Roosevelt’s death, Truman told reporters on Capitol Hill: “I don’t know if you fellas ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me what happened yesterday, I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me.”

Mark Fields had more time to prepare for his new job than Truman. But he’ll quickly learn the burden of those words on Truman’s desk: “The buck stops here.”

You can reach Bradford Wernle at bwernle@crain.com.


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