Mark Fields, the fourth head of Ford Motor Co.'s Americas operations in four years, is coming to Dearborn to do the dirty work -- overhaul Ford's failed turnaround plan.
The 44-year-old golden boy led Mazda's turnaround before taking over Ford's Premier Automotive Group three years ago. In North America he'll need to take tough measures, including closing plants and eliminating jobs.
And he'll have to move fast.
Some question whether the company's fastest-rising top executive is ready for the assignment he was handed last week. Fields has spent much of his career outside North America, and his record as chairman of PAG has been mixed.
But CEO Bill Ford may have had little choice but to give him the job now. Company insiders and industry analysts say the pickings are slim in Ford's top executive ranks, and the need for talent in North America is great.
Some see last week's surprise management shake-up as a desperate sign.
"Ford has replaced the head of its North American operations after only 16 months, signaling to us that the company's turnaround plan is no longer working," wrote John Casesa, auto analyst for Merrill Lynch in New York, in a note to investors.
The loser in the shake-up within Ford was Greg Smith, 54, who was replaced after 16 months as president of the Americas. Smith becomes vice chairman in charge of corporate staffs, including human resources, labor affairs, information technology and the dealer policy board.
One Ford insider described Smith as a very capable executive who had been stuck with a flawed product plan that he had little to do with. New vehicles such as the Ford Five Hundred and Freestyle have failed to ignite customer interest.
Casesa said Ford had allowed itself to slip into a "reactive mode." He wrote that Ford has "let itself be victimized by GM's destructive" price-cutting tactics.
Ford posted a pretax loss of $907 million in the second quarter in its North American automotive business. Sources say Ford wants to cut as many as 30 percent of its 35,000 salaried workers in the North American unit. Assembly plants also could be closed.
Ford is using only about 75 percent of its North American production capacity, company COO Jim Padilla has said. Leading the candidates of factories to close are a Wixom, Mich., plant that assembles the Lincoln LS, Town Car and Ford GT, and a St. Louis plant that builds the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer SUVs.