DETROIT -- Former Ford Motor Co. executive Mary Ann Wright, who headed the automaker's hybrid vehicles program, has joined auto supplier Collins & Aikman Corp.
Wright, 44, said her first task as executive vice president of commercial and program management will be to repair strained relations with Collins & Aikman's customers. Collins & Aikman, which has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization since May, makes interior components such as instrument panels, convertible tops and plastic trim panels for most of the world's largest automakers.
Wright's hiring at Collins & Aikman became official Thursday when U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven W. Rhodes approved employment contracts for Wright and several other open positions. According to court documents, Wright's salary is $425,000 a year. She also would get an annual 50 percent bonus, according to court documents.
At Ford, Wright was known most for taking over the troubled Ford Escape Hybrid SUV program in 2003 and turned the vehicle into one of the company's success stories in recent years.
Win back credibility
Analyst Jim Hall of AutoPacific in Southfield, Mich., says Wright's experience at Ford will help Collins & Aikman win back credibility with customers.
"She understands the car side of the business and can help smooth things over," Hall told Automotive News. "Collins & Aikman is in the position of having to earn its business all over again. Having someone who's been on the OEM side will help," he said.
Before filing for bankruptcy protection, Collins & Aikman supplied about 90 percent of the vehicle platforms made in North America.
The company entered bankruptcy protection because it suffered from too much debt, falling revenue, high costs and an ineffective senior management team that had little experience in the auto industry.
That team was led by former Reagan administration budget czar David Stockman. The investment company he co-founded, Heartland Industrial Partners LP, pumped $700 million into Collins & Aikman. But the company ran out of cash in May.
Wright said another goal will be to revamp the company's engineering processes, stressing quality and innovation.
Wright rose rapidly through the engineering ranks during her 17-year career at Ford. Before becoming the chief engineer of the Escape Hybrid, Wright was chief platform engineer for the Lincoln LS sedan and Ford Thunderbird convertible. She also was the plant vehicle team engineering manager for the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable sedan in 1999 and 2000.
She is widely regarded as a hard-charging manager who is particularly skilled at straightening out multilayered messes and delivering products on time and on budget.
When Wright took over as chief engineer of the Escape Hybrid, the vehicle was a year behind schedule. Suppliers from different companies in different countries were making changes to parts and software without communicating with one another. Because a change to one part affected the performance of another, the vehicle slipped further behind schedule.
One way Wright saved the project was by streamlining communications and establishing procedures that engineers had to follow when changes were made.
The Escape Hybrid has been nearly trouble-free, and it has brought Ford some much-needed credibility with environmentalists and consumers looking for a fuel-efficient SUV. The vehicle also has become the poster child for Ford's latest corporate image that stresses innovation. And Wright was its high-profile champion, appearing on TV shows and speaking directly to consumers through clinics and panels.
But, citing personal reasons, Wright abruptly quit Ford Motor in November.
She said that after she left Ford, she "shut down" and went on vacation. She had job offers from other suppliers and from schools. She said she chose Collins & Aikman because of the pitch made to her by CEO Frank Macher. a one-time Ford executive.
You may e-mail Richard Truett at [email protected]