DETROIT -- Talk about upheaval: In about 90 days, Ford Motor Co. has lost the heads of product development, engineering, manufacturing and finance in North America.
After yet another reshuffling last week, Ford's management team has a tall task ahead as it tries to revive its flagging North American automotive operation. Ford Motor's main man in the effort is Mark Fields, a rising young executive who hasn't worked in North America since 1996.
Fields, who became president of the Americas last month, immediately lost two key executives who had been immersed in this market. North American product chief Phil Martens and North American assembly plant boss Matt DeMars resigned unexpectedly to join supplier Plastech Engineered Products Inc. last week.
The shake-up followed the departures of Will Boddie, vice president of North American engineering, who retired in July, and John Rickel, controller for the Americas, who left in August for personal reasons.
Though the turnover allows Fields to assemble his own team, it comes as Ford tries to execute sweeping changes initiated in part by some of the departing executives.
In particular, Martens' makeover of Ford's product development system in the image of Mazda is just starting to roll. Ford is aiming to cut 10 months and as much as 60 percent of costs out of vehicle development. A purchasing initiative announced two weeks ago to work more collaboratively with suppliers depends on cooperation from product development and engineering.
The Mazda and purchasing initiatives represented a "cultural mind-warp change for an American culture," Martens told Automotive News last month. After heading Mazda product development early this decade, Martens was especially qualified to implement the system here. By contrast, his replacement, Derrick Kuzak, spent most of the last six years at Ford of Europe.
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Both at Mazda and at his last job, heading Ford's Premier Automotive Group, Fields counted the United States as his No. 1 market. And, though Fields doesn't have hands-on experience in the grittier disciplines of the industry, his new lieutenant does.
Anne Stevens, who was named COO of the Americas last week, now is in charge of product development, manufacturing and purchasing. Stevens, who had been group vice president of Canada, Mexico and South America, knows this market intimately. She is an engineer who ran the assembly plants before DeMars.
The Stevens promotion was in the works before the departure of Martens and DeMars. Some sources say her promotion prompted the two executives to jump ship to Plastech.
Martens, who couldn't be reached for comment last week, would have reported to her under the new structure. Fields had warned executives when he arrived last month that he would be assembling his own team.
With last week's departures, plus the pending retirement of global manufacturing chief Roman Krygier, Fields now has put his stamp on the team. Fields worked closely with some of the rising executives when he led Ford of Europe and PAG.
For instance, Kuzak, new group vice president of product development for the Americas, had been vice president of product development for Ford of Europe. Robert Shanks, who became vice president and controller of the Americas on Sept. 1, also had been at Ford of Europe and PAG.
The team has drawn some criticism.
The turmoil in Ford's management ranks already had industry watchers questioning the strength of the company's team. Last week's shuffle just reinforced that question for some.
A former company executive, who asked not to be named, said the constant turnover at Ford has so thinned the ranks that people who normally would be career middle managers are now in the top spots.
Fields defended the team in a prepared statement last week.
"I asked (CEO) Bill Ford and (COO) Jim Padilla for not only the best and brightest leaders in our company, but for the kind of people who can work as one team on one agenda," Fields said. "That agenda is to turn around our North American operation with a team that knows how to win, an innovative product lineup that wins in the marketplace and a brand that has strong emotional appeal."
Still, there could be more disruption in the future. Bill Ford appears to be searching the industry for his own possible backup. He already has been turned down by seasoned leaders such as DaimlerChrysler's Dieter Zetsche and Renault/Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn.
If Bill Ford does find someone from the outside, that person likely would want to shuffle the team again.
You may e-mail Amy Wilson at [email protected]