DETROIT - Dealer introduction shows traditionally have been laid-back affairs at which dealers socialize, play golf and conduct a little business on the side.
Jim Rogers, an outside hire at Lincoln Mercury, decided to change that. In April, 3,000 worldwide dealers will gather at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay to drive the new 2000 Lincoln LS. But they also will attend 11/2 days of marathon business meetings.
Rogers is an example of a new breed of executive making significant changes at Ford Motor Co. Casting off decades of tradition, Ford CEO Jac Nasser is opening the doors to newcomers from inside and outside the auto industry.
In March alone, Ford hired three vice presidents and one group vice president from the outside. The new group vice president is Wolfgang Reitzle, the former product-development czar at BMW AG who resigned in February. He will head a new luxury-vehicle group at Ford.
The four recent top hires are only the tip of the iceberg. Ford is hiring in virtually every department: marketing, design, engineering, product development, manufacturing, component operations, customer service and Ford Motor Credit Co.
Nasser wants to change Ford's corporate DNA with new ideas. His ambitious mission: to transform the company into one of the world's premier customer-pleasing corporations, automotive or nonautomotive.
But the game plan carries risks as well as opportunities. Already, loyal Ford employees are uncertain about their chances of promotion. In October 1998, when Nasser handpicked his new team, seven vice presidents left.
Also, high-profile outsiders run the risk of polarizing the troops, and workers must let go of ingrained practices. Moreover, Nasser's executive shopping spree may not be over.
'This is draft time. You go for the good athlete and then you figure out what position he will play,' said Jim Mateyka, vice president at consultant A.T. Kearney's office in Southfield, Mich.
'This might be leading up to a reorganization because they've got all this new talent.'
For example, Ford is fuzzy when asked to detail the extent of Reitzle's responsibilities.
'They are not ready to cast it solidly yet,' Mateyka said. 'They haven't figured out all the deck chairs yet.'
Two of Ford's March hires were from outside the auto industry, traditionally quite unusual in Detroit.
Louise Goeser arrives from Whirlpool Corp. to become Ford's vice president of quality. George Murphy takes over as Ford Division general marketing manager after more than a decade at GE Lighting.
Ford also has hired executives from DaimlerChrysler. The spillover from the DaimlerChrysler merger may continue as people reassess their careers following the consolidation of the two companies.
This month, Chris Theodore, DaimlerChrysler's chief product-development executive in North America, was named vice president of Ford's large- and luxury-car vehicle center.
Shamel Rushwin is Ford's new vice president of advanced manufacturing engineering after overseeing Chrysler's minivan assembly operations and international manufacturing.
Tom Stallkamp, president of DaimlerChrysler Corp., acknowledges the company's executives are being contacted by competing automakers, although he did not specify Ford. He said maybe DaimlerChrysler will be the 'breeding ground' for future executives. It is a reflection on the strength of the former Chrysler management, he said.
MEANWHILE, AT GM ...
Nasser's outside hiring contrasts sharply with General Motors' practice. Of GM's top 22 executives, only three are outside hires.
The most recent outside hire among them is Ron Zarrella, president of GM North America, who joined the company in 1994. He has played a prominent role in shaking up GM operations.
Zarrella, former president of Bausch & Lomb Corp., hired a batch of outsiders to carry out his brand management philosophy. His outsiders include Karen Francis, marketing general manager at Oldsmobile, and Roger Adams, marketing general manager at Buick.
The four big names hired in March at Ford are just the latest outside hires at the company. Ford has been hiring from the outside for 21/2 years.
For example, Jim Schroer, a former Booz, Allen and Hamilton vice president, arrived at Ford in October 1996 and has spearheaded the company's campaign to craft distinct identities for each of its six brands.
Schroer is developing the Ford Motor Co. 'trustmark,' a corporate umbrella akin to the Good House-keeping Seal of Approval.
J Mays, vice president of design, on board since October 1997, already has created a concept vehicle approved for production. The Lincoln Blackwood, which mates a Lincoln Navigator cabin with an enclosed bed from the Ford F-series pickup, debuted in January 1999 and will be on the streets within two years.