Wolfgang Reitzle would have never dreamed of letting anyone appoint a styling chief at Premier Automotive Group without exercising his own personal influence.
But when current Mazda President Mark Fields comes to London in July to succeed Reitzle as chairman of Ford's luxury-car division, he will find a new design head, Peter Horbury, already at work. Horbury was named to the job last week.
Formerly chief designer at Volvo, Horbury, 52, reports to Richard Parry-Jones, Ford's product development chief, and J Mays, the company's design boss. Parry-Jones is based in the UK, while Mays is in Dearborn, Michigan, USA.
The new reporting structure may signal diminished autonomy for Premier under Fields' leadership.
Reitzle treated Premier as his personal kingdom. Indeed, ousted Ford CEO Jacques Nasser created the division in 1999 to lure Reitzle back into the auto industry after his departure from BMW.
The changes also signal Premier Automotive Group will be a very different place now that the Nasser-Reitzle era has ended. Under Chairman Bill Ford Jr., Ford is trying to recover traditional values that were lost during Nasser's attempts to reinvent the company.
Reitzle, trained as an engineer, was fanatical about design and product development issues. When he visited the headquarters of Premier Automotive Group's various brands, he spent time in the styling departments, suggesting tweaks to improve the designs. Designers and engineers at Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo felt Reitzle intuitively understood what they did.
A graduate of Harvard School of Business, Fields comes from a different background. His experience is primarily in marketing and sales. He has led a Mazda turnaround and is very tuned into brand issues, but he lacks Reitzle's engineering and product expertise.
Reitzle, a German, was an outsider to the Ford culture and frequently chafed at the huge company's bureaucracy. But Fields, an American, is a Ford insider who has been carefully groomed for big things.
Fields held his first meetings earlier this month with Robert Dover, chief of the British Premier Automotive Group brands, and William Cosgrove, Premier's vice president and chief financial officer. A source said both came away enthused about their new boss.
Horbury is the second Volvo executive to win a major appointment in Premier. The Premier styling job is a new position. Hans Gustavsson, who had been Volvo's product development chief, was named executive director of commonality programs planning for Premier in December. Both Horbury and Gustavsson are based in the UK.
One Ford source said Reitzle's departure might actually result in more attention being given to product by top Ford officials. In the evolving Premier Automotive Group structure, the individual brands are holding product meetings roughly every three weeks. Reitzle never attended those meetings, but Gustavsson and Parry-Jones attend every one. Parry-Jones is devoting about 50 percent of his time to the Premier brands.
Having outbid Opel to keep Horbury's services, Ford must prove he can serve as a guiding hand to keep the Premier brands dynamic and distinct. What Ford wants to avoid is turning a top designer into the head of a new layer of bureaucracy.