Ford dealers plan gets lift with Robert at helm
Ford Motor Co. made a strong statement as well as a routine personnel change when it named Ross Roberts president of Ford Investment Enterprise Corp. The newly formed group is in charge of dealership consolidation.
In effect, the statement was: 'We're dead serious about this new marketing strategy, and we think Roberts is the guy who can make it fly.'
Why Roberts? Why, indeed! He has headed Ford Division since 1991, the longest tenure of any general manager in Ford Division's 49-year history, and he has creamed Chevrolet in car and light-truck sales every year since he took over.
His Ford Taurus was the nation's best-selling car in 1992-96, and his F-series pickup has been the best-selling light truck for 16 years. On the minus side, he doesn't wear a big S on his chest. Ford Division's car-truck sales mix is badly unbalanced - 65 percent trucks for the first four months of this year. Three car lines were dropped for 1998, thus Ford Division is not touching as many bases as it once did.
But most important of all to his new job, Roberts is a dealer guy. He fights for them - and sometimes WITH them, but Ford's retailers trust him. That's important, since he will try to persuade a lot of them to give up their independent stores and cast their lot with a new, untested 'Big Daddy' system of distribution and marketing.
The new plan has a so-so record to date. Ford failed in Indianapolis and Salt Lake City last year, and has been successful in Tulsa, Okla. A different version of the program has been adopted in San Diego, and Salt Lake City has entered the fold, though with fewer dealers than originally planned.
Ford Motor Co.'s experiment has been well worth watching from the start. With Roberts in command, it gains stature and credibility.
Beware of good times
These are supposed to be good times for auto suppliers. Yet the saga of Tube Products Corp. illustrates how bad things can happen quickly to mismanaged companies. (Automotive News, May 18).
The award-winning General Motors supplier nearly choked on its own success, as a supplier of exhaust parts for GM's big trucks. Tube Products hired workers on the cheap. Its record on safety and quality was despicable.
It took a rescue by GM and new owners to turn things around. Suppliers - indeed, any business - would do well to heed those lessons. Growth at any cost can kill you. If you depend on just one customer, watch out. And, above all, employees are an asset. Neglect them at your peril.