Give Bill Ford credit.
Bringing Allan Gilmour back to Ford Motor Co. as CFO is the bold stroke the company needs to get its financial house in order. It's the same type of expansive thinking that prompted General Motors to hire 70-year-old Bob Lutz as product czar.
Gilmour, who will be 68 next month, retired from Ford Motor as vice chairman in 1994. He is well known and respected on Wall Street as a back-to-basics thinker who can put a fresh, critical eye on Ford's finances - even if only for a short while until the company is turned around.
He started with the company in 1960 as an analyst on the finance staff and held most of the key financial posts along the way, including CFO and a stint as president of Ford Motor Credit Co.
Although a skilled finance man, Gilmour is more than just a bean counter. In the early 1990s, he served as president of the Ford Automotive Group, so he knows the heart of the business, too.
Bringing Gilmour out of retirement highlights the dilemma. The company must convince shareholders and investors that it is serious about cutting costs as part of its revitalization plan. So far, Wall Street has been underwhelmed with the plan unveiled in January. Ford Motor's stock price had bumped along in the $15.00 to $16.50 range since then. But on Friday, May 17, a published report in The Wall Street Journal that Gilmour was coming back as CFO pushed Ford Motor's common share price to $16.72. Part of the problem is a lack of continuity.
Martin Inglis, a Ford Motor lifer and Jacques Nasser protege who has been CFO only since August, doesn't have the long-term relationship with Wall Street that can bridge troubled waters. The company has lost money for four consecutive quarters dating from before Inglis took over the CFO job from Henry Wallace, and that doesn't help either.
Wallace was CFO for less than two years, having replaced John Devine when Devine left Ford Motor in October 1999.
Ironically, Devine, who became Ford Motor CFO in October 1994 when Gilmour retired, has a great rapport with Wall Street. He returned to the car business last year and has been GM's CFO for about 17 months, playing to rave reviews on Wall Street.
Gilmour is just the person to make the revitalization work. Bill Ford calls the campaign "back to basics," which was Gilmour's credo as CFO the first time around. When charged with investigating potential acquisitions outside the company's core automotive business, Gilmour deferred, believing the company should stick to the basics. (See story at right.)
Gilmour also is of CEO timber. Twice he was in the running to be Ford Motor CEO. The first time he was nosed out by Harold Poling in March 1990. The second time, Alex Trotman got the nod in November 1993.
At the time, some insiders privately suggested Gilmour's homosexuality may have contributed to him not getting the top job. It was never a public issue when he was at Ford Motor. But after retiring, Gilmour came out and became a supporter of charities that assist gays.
If Gilmour's sexualitywas a factor in him not becoming CEO, then Ford Motor has paid a terrible price for someone's prejudice. After all, Ford Motor wouldn't need to be on a painful odyssey back to basics if the company had stayed where it belonged.
Thankfully, thinking has changed at the top.
Bill Ford's decision to bring Gilmour back as CFO and to move David Thursfield, known for his toughness, from Ford of Europe to Dearborn to head international operations and purchasing ought to be two giant steps on the road to revitalization.