Henry Wallace took over this month as Ford Motor Co.'s group vice president of Asia Pacific operations and associations, a key strategy area for the company.
Wallace, 53, was the first westerner to head a Japanese auto company when he became president of Mazda Motor Corp. in 1996. He previously was vice president of strategic planning and CFO for Ford of Europe. Wallace joined Ford in 1971. He was interviewed by Staff Reporter Mary Connelly in Detroit.
How do you assess the economic health of the Asian region?
The region clearly is an economic question mark right now. We have seen a tremendous decline in the growth perspectives in the short term in the region.
Japan still isn't recovering, and that probably represents about 70 percent of the economic well-being of the region. Recovery in Japan is key for the region. We need to see how this year unfolds. I think we are probably through the worst of it.
There are already signs that Thailand is beginning to recover a little bit. We're just going to have to be patient over the next one or two years.
All the reasons why we went into Asia as a growth strategy are still relevant. We always expected some volatility. It just came probably a little earlier than we hoped for.
Has the economic downturn delayed any parts of your strategy?
The economic situation has not changed any of our product decisions. We laid out what we want to do and by when, and we are still on schedule.
Can you meet your strategy through internal resources and cooperative ventures with Mazda or do you need to look outside to joint-venture relationships or partners?
We can do it internally with our partners. We've built a presence now in most of the countries. We've still got some (product) gaps that we've got to work on. Some of those we hope we will be able to work on with Mazda. We have some strong relationships in the region. We don't need anything outside to support that.
What kind of product gaps?
If we look at China and India for the long term, it's really at the small end of the market because that is where the market is today. The value cars. We don't have a product that fits today. And I don't know if we will have one tomorrow either. But I think that is an area in the future we will certainly have to look at.
What is Wayne Booker's new role?
He remains vice chairman. He will give up the day-to-day responsibility for the region. He is going to be assisting (Ford president) Jac Nasser in the transition of the new management team.
He also will be good counsel to me because he has a vast knowledge of the region. I am sure he will continue to help in relationship building, which is very important. I think he will stay active in terms of some of the policy issues for the region but not day-to-day operational issues.
Will you do this job from world headquarters in Dearborn?
That is still my plan. There is no good place to do this from. We've had offices in Australia and in Tokyo. General Motors is in Singapore. But the countries are so far apart that where you are based is not important. You are going to do a lot of traveling.
Are there any projects that need to be dealt with immediately?
The most critical issue is that we have made our investment in many places. We are putting the organization in place, putting the products in place. So we have to do a job building the franchise and growing the business. That's a common theme through a lot of the countries we are dealing with over the next one to three years. It is now about building on that base.
You want a 10 percent share?
Our vision is to grow our business to be 10 percent of the Asian region. That is still a goal. It is a gradual process. I don't put a time on it. It is directional. It has to be profitable and sustainable and that is what we will be working toward.