Jacques Nasser, who succeeded Alex Trotman in 1999 to become the second foreign-born CEO of Ford Motor Co., now says it makes sense to have Americans run the company.
You might not expect to hear that from him, Nasser says.
"You probably think I'd be the last person on Earth to say this, but I really believe that, all other things being equal, it would be better to have an American at the head of Ford Motor Co.," Nasser said in a recent interview.
"That's because Ford is such a strong icon and symbol of America. It's one of the most international of companies yet, at the same time, it's one of the most American of companies. It's one of the reasons that attracted me to Ford as a young man."
Nasser, ousted in October 2001 by Bill Ford, said an American CEO might be more in touch with Ford's core, the U.S. market, than a non-American.
"Although you can certainly find lots of American executives who aren't in tune with the U.S. market either," he quipped.
"But what I'm saying is that if you could find two candidates with the same skill base, experience base and leadership skills - all other things being equal - it would be better in the end to pick the person who had grown up as an American for the job."
After leaving Ford, Nasser joined One Equity Partners LLC, the private equity arm of Banc One Corp., as a senior partner. In that role, he also is nonexecutive chairman of Polaroid Corp.
Nasser was born in Lebanon and raised in Australia and is fluent in four languages. He spent most of his Ford career outside the United States. In his own words, that made him something of an "outsider" when he moved to World Headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., in the early 1990s.
"I've had 30 years at Ford," Nasser said in a 2001 interview. "I look at things like an outsider because I've been so many places."
That perspective has deep roots. As an immigrant schoolboy in 1950s Melbourne, Australia, Nasser recalled, he would hide the Lebanese lunch his mother made for him because "it wasn't normal."
But Nasser says his lifelong feeling of being an outsider contributed to his ability to "see different perspectives and have different viewpoints" as he climbed through the ranks at Ford.
But that's not an unqualified recommendation for bringing in outsiders for top management jobs, he makes clear.
"An outsider brings some talents and some views to an organization that someone who has gone through the ranks may not have," he says. "But it's risky; riskier certainly than promoting someone from within."