“Not only did Nick help us overcome many challenges at the time, he mended relationships with our dealers, our suppliers and our employees, and set the stage for many of today’s leaders who are moving us forward," Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in a statement Friday. “Nick Scheele was an outstanding leader whose global experience and passion for our products served Ford Motor Company at a critical time."
Scheele was no stranger to solving problems and helped steer Ford through some of its best and worst times, including the Firestone tire crisis at the turn of the century.
At the time of his appointment as head of Ford's North American operations, Scheele downplayed the notion that Ford needed a savior.
"It's not broken -- let's be clear about that," he told Automotive News at the time. "We've got a few problems, but the barn isn't burning down."
But in a 2002 interview with Fortune, Scheele rattled off some other ills still battering Ford: weak capital spending, high marketing outlays, damaging employee lawsuits, and the Firestone tire debacle.
He found it hard to believe that Ford, which just two years earlier was widely admired for being one of the world's best-managed automakers, had fallen so far so fast.
"It is absolutely nuts," he told the magazine.
Scheele largely honed his turnaround skills in Europe, where his articulate and approachable manner and candid communication skills came into play more than once.
In 2000, after becoming chairman of Ford Europe, he crafted a comeback plan that involved closing plants, enhancing quality and investing in new products.
Scheele, along with factory expert David Thursfield, improved Ford's market share in Europe and stewarded it to a small profit in 2001 after several years of losses.
In a show of resolve, Scheele oversaw the painful and controversial decision in 2000 to close Ford's venerable car assembly operation in Dagenham, England, but managed to handle it with great composure and skill.
The move brought an end to Ford assembly operations in Britain, which dated back to 1911, when the company began making the Model T in Manchester, its first factory outside the United States.
The closing eliminated 1,900 jobs and was particularly difficult for Scheele because he was born in Essex, the county where Dagenham is located.
"We require plants that are capable of manufacturing this car today and another car tomorrow," Scheele said at the time. "Dagenham doesn't have that flexibility."