Bill Ford ascended to CEO at Ford Motor Co. with a primary mission: Take the company back to basics.
The great-grandson of Henry Ford, untested and initially somewhat hesitant in his new role, promised to return Ford Motor to its roots. He wanted well-crafted cars and trucks - period.
But first Bill Ford had to smooth company waters riled by his predecessor, Jacques Nasser, ousted as CEO on Oct. 30, 2001. Bill Ford and Nasser are opposites in background and temperament.
Bill Ford is a Detroiter born to wealth and an industrial legacy, a man given to measuring the impact of Ford Motor on society at large. Nasser is Lebanese-born and Australian-bred, a results-oriented manager who earned the nickname "Jac the Knife" during his rise to the top.
In September 1998, Ford Motor designated Bill Ford chairman and Nasser president and CEO, effective Jan. 1, 1999. They replaced Alex Trotman, who had been chairman, CEO and president. Nasser, a hard-charging, tireless global executive, focused on delivering immediate results to Wall Street. As nonoperating chairman, Bill Ford provided the counterpoint, his style more relaxed, his view long.
Nasser defined Ford Motor Co. in a new way - not as an automaker but as a consumer company providing automotive goods and services. The shift in focus led the company into everything from Internet-based repair shops to recycling automotive parts.
Nasser, hoping to ride the Internet wave of the late 1990s, wanted to imbue his corporate revolution with the urgency of the dot-com world. He also beefed up the company's luxury lineup in the pursuit of profits. He added Volvo and Land Rover to Ford Motor's portfolio, creating Premier Automotive Group.
Seeds of resentment
But Nasser left out an important part of the equation: the people needed to carry out his corporate overhaul. He alienated Ford Motor dealers by launching company-controlled dealership groups. He angered employees by instituting quotas designed to create a more diverse work force. He brought in people from outside the auto industry to run key operations, sparking internal resentment.
Most important, Nasser lost sight of Ford Motor's core automotive business, particularly in North America. Vehicle quality suffered. New-product development for Ford Division and Lincoln slowed. Product launches were marred by numerous recalls. The Firestone tire crisis, in which hundreds of Ford Explorers equipped with bad tires rolled over, was a huge distraction. Market share and profits fell.
As Nasser stumbled, Ford Motor in July 2001 created a two-man office of the chairman and CEO, recognizing Bill Ford's growing influence and beginning the shift of power away from Nasser.
On Oct. 30, 2001, Bill Ford moved in as CEO to pick up the pieces. He was the first Ford family member to run the company in 22 years. Henry Ford II had been the last family member atop the company.
Bill Ford promised to mend fences with employees, dealers, suppliers and unions. He promised Wall Street he would deliver a corporate turnaround yielding $7 billion in pre-tax operating profit by 2005. Most of all, he promised to dedicate Ford Motor to producing top-notch cars and trucks.