DETROIT -- As Ford Motor Co.'s North American leadership team launches into an accelerated restructuring plan later this month, new CEO Alan Mulally intends to provide a steadying hand.
Two leaders that outgoing CEO Bill Ford wants Mulally to mentor are Mark Fields, president of the Americas, and Mark Schulz, president of international operations. The battle-tested Mulally, who became CEO of the struggling automaker on Tuesday, Sept. 5, was tapped by Bill Ford largely for the leadership that Mulally could provide to those executives and their teams.
Bill Ford, who stays on as executive chairman of family-controlled Ford Motor, identified the automaker's biggest problem in a CNBC interview last week as a lack of confidence. Mulally led a revival at Boeing, cutting thousands of jobs, enduring a strike and championing a hit new aircraft. That experience will help Ford Motor, Bill Ford said.
"First of all, we need a better sense of teamwork," Bill Ford told Automotive News in an interview. "That's one of Alan's strengths.
Mulally will also hold team members accountable for turnaround goals, Ford said.
"Accountability comes in many ways: It's not just whacking people, but if you have to do that, then you do," Ford said. "But it's also guiding people and coaching them and getting them to the right solutions."
Way Forward, Take 2
Ford Motor needs to find those solutions fast. The Way Forward plan, announced with much fanfare in January, is faltering as full-sized pickup sales slump. Ford Motor lost $1.44 billion through June. Once a powerhouse, the North American unit lost $1.28 billion before taxes and one-time charges.
Ford's board of directors, including Mulally, will meet this Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 13 and 14, to review the acceleration plan. The company is expected to speed up plant closings, expand buyouts to U.S. production workers and cut more salaried jobs and benefits. Ford could unveil the revised plan as soon as Sept. 15.
The original Way Forward plan, crafted by Fields, called for closing 14 manufacturing plants and eliminating up to 34,000 jobs through 2012.
Mulally told Automotive News that he intends to put his stamp on the revised restructuring plan. But that will come later and is more likely to involve execution rather than the selection of the plants or job-cut numbers. Mulally said he has seen and likes the basic outline of Way Forward 2 but won't be working full-tilt as CEO until the beginning of October.
Some have criticized the selection of Mulally, saying an outsider to the industry will be slow to recognize the changes that must be made at Ford. But Mulally's outsider status should promote more dispassionate decision making, said Allan Gilmour, a retired Ford vice chairman.
Ford Motor "needed more horsepower," Gilmour said - not to help with the plan, but to keep the team on track.
"The concern won't be the plan," he said. "The concern will be executing it quickly and effectively, and there he has a heck of a background."
Ford's labor union and dealer network are two important constituencies Mulally will need to address.
UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, who as head of the union's aerospace department worked with Mulally, said Mulally is a capable manager who will bring a fresh perspective.
"I found him to be a very credible individual," Gettelfinger said. "I never had an issue with him that we weren't able to sit down and talk our way through."
Megadealer Mike Jackson said Mulally's hiring is a good step, but he noted that retailing cars is vastly different from selling to airlines. Rebuilding customer desire for Ford products should be Mulally's biggest priority, Jackson said.
"There's going to be all this talk about sell this asset, keep that asset, cut costs: The list is a mile long," said Jackson, CEO of AutoNation Inc., the country's biggest dealership group. "But the No. 1 focus is winning back the American consumer."
First Mulally needs to get his Ford team and the revised Way Forward plan on track. Mulally said last week that he has no plans right now to bring in his own people. But that doesn't prohibit changes down the road.
Ford human resources chief Joe Laymon worked closely with Bill Ford to recruit the Boeing executive he describes as "sneaky smart." Laymon said Mulally holds other executives accountable for executing tasks in a reasonable amount of time.
"And to the extent they don't get them done, he'll change the team," Laymon said.
Ford Motor did need a more seasoned hand at the tiller, Bill Ford told Automotive News. He said Mulally brings skills that neither he nor his senior managers could offer.
"Alan has had many, many, many years through many cycles, and some really horrific conditions that he has managed," Bill Ford said. "So I think he will help Mark (Fields), and he will help Mark Schulz be better. And to me, that's exciting."
David Barkholz and Dave Guilford contributed to this report
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