The Internet will be an important part of Ford Motor Co.'s distribution network and supply chain. But Ford CEO Jac Nasser also sees the Internet as an example of the quick-moving business model he wants the company to emulate.
As the Internet forces the auto industry to change, successful companies will be those that are able to adapt to the relentless pace of the electronic world, Nasser said in an interview last week.
'Anyone who wants to put a nice, little fence around it and say, `Look, would you mind not changing anything for one or two years? We'd like to relax.' That's the company that is going to get trodden right into the ground,' Nasser said.
Nasser is recasting Ford's culture, trying to overturn Detroit's historic obsession with organizational charts and long-term business models.
Nearly one year into the Ford presidency, he has hired executives from outside the auto industry, decentralized automotive operations, started adjacent businesses and moved to create a hurry-up corporate culture. He also has spent many hours getting to know the world of e-commerce firsthand.
'I think I have spent more time with the Internet people than the nuts-and-bolts people,' Nasser said last week during a press briefing to announce a joint venture with Oracle Corp. 'It's a sign of where the industry is going.'
IT ISN'T RISK-FREE
Nasser's attempt to imbue Ford's corporate structure with the hyperactivity of electronic commerce is not risk-free. Anxiety levels escalate with change, and employees have to find new ways to work together and accomplish tasks. Disseminating the changes into middle management is a huge challenge.
For example, the old days of relying on an organizational chart to map out who does what are all but over, Ford executives said in the wake of a worldwide reorganization in October.
'Looking at our organization chart won't explain the way we are going to operate,' said Robert Rewey, Ford group vice president of consumer services and North America. 'It's not on the chart.'
A rigid organizational chart will not produce a quick-acting company responsive to customer needs, Nasser said.
'If I could eliminate the organization chart, I'd do it, because I think it is archaic,' he said.
'It doesn't reflect a consumer organization, and it doesn't reflect the way an efficient enterprise should run.'
Nasser's overriding goal is to turn Ford into the world's leading consumer company for automotive goods and services. He relentlessly exhorts employees to jump into the skin and minds of customers. During the Oracle press briefing, Nasser also said he wants Ford to be the 'Web-enabled leader in all consumer products, inside and outside the auto industry.'
Nasser said he relies on a small cadre of executives to spot global trends and quickly weave them into Ford's business plan. He described the group as the top 16- 20 people in the company who formulate strategy, chart technology and help run the business.
EDGE AND SKILLS
For example, Nasser said the group studied the company and its processes after the acquisition of Volvo Cars was announced in January 1999. The group also mapped out the October reorganization that created powerful regional organizations built around the company's vehicle brands.
Said Rewey: 'The top 15 or 16 people in the organization have a consensus on what we want for the new millennium. Our attitude is to work together to make that happen and not waste our energy drawing a lot of organization charts.'
A quick-moving team with 'edge and leadership skills' is more valuable today than old-fashioned business models, Nasser said.
'Business models in the 1980s probably had a life cycle of two or three years. Now, we're in online business models. You can't say here's a business model, and I'm going to run on this business model for the next five years,' he said.
Staff Reporter Mary Connelly contributed to this report