Don Winkler, a charismatic banking executive famous in business circles for outside-the-box thinking, is the second outsider in just over a year to take over Ford Motor Credit Co.
Win kler, 51, is an outsider in more ways than one: He has learning disabilities, including dyslexia. He says that forces him literally to approach problems in a different way from most people. Winkler says he cannot take anything for granted, whether he is visualizing the alphabet, learning foreign languages or applying business concepts.
'I'm very happy to be here,' Winkler said in a phone interview on Thursday, Oct. 28, shortly after he was handed his For d Credit ID card.
'The first thing I intend to do is to go out and listen to people, to hear what they have in place,' he said. 'My whole forte in my old job was to listen to dealers and others and do things to help them sell c ars.'
Ford Credit is a huge jump for Winkler. The company had net finance receivables of $134 billion as of Sept. 30. That makes Ford Credit the world's largest auto finance company, more than five times the size of the automotiv e portfolio at Finance One Corp. in Columbus, Ohio, where Winkler was CEO. Finance One is the consumer and commercial finance subsidiary of Chicago-based Bank One Corp.
MAXIMIZE SALES, PROFITS
Winkler said his marching orders fr om Ford Motor Co. President Jac Nasser are: 'Maximize car sales, and maximize the profits of Ford Motor Co., through Ford Motor Credit.'
Winkler replaces Philippe Paillart as chairman of Ford Credit, after only one year. Then -Chairman Alex Trotman appointed Paillart last fall. Nasser took control of Ford in January 1999.
Nasser said in a memo Oct. 22 that Paillart was leaving over the strategy of focusing Ford Credit more narrowly on automotive produc ts and services. That indirectly suggests Paillart wanted to move farther afield. Paillart did not return a request for comment. Under Paillart, Ford Credit was hitting its 1999 target of 10 percent earnings growth, up 12 percent to $952 million after nine months.
He stays on as president of Ford Financial Services through early next year. Paillart, a 48-year-old Frenchman, took the top job at Ford Credit after a decade in international banking. Before th at, he was the chief economist for Renault SA.
Winkler was with Bank One for six years. Before that, he was at Citibank N.A. Winkler made his early business reputation in European postings with Citibank.
In Gree ce, Winkler addressed customer complaints by stationing the bank president's desk in the bank lobby, to hear unhappy customers first-hand. To head off a bank run in Italy, he had all the bank's cash taken out of the vault and stack ed where the customers could see it.
Those incidents were mentioned in an admiring profile in The Wall Street Journal last year.
Winkler also gives motivational speeches to schoolchildren.
'He's very sensitive to kids, and he's very good about addressing the negative self-esteem bit, about being the kid in the back of the classroom who never figured out how to read,' said J. Thomas Viall, executive director of the Baltimore-based International Dyslexia Society, where Winkler is a board member.
'Whatever it takes to connect with a kid, he'll do it, whether it's putting a clown nose on them, or putting it on himself,' Viall said.
Winkler said last week he will stay active with his causes: 'When you get me, you get the whole guy.'