DETROIT — Ford Motor Co.'s stock price has tumbled into single digits, analysts have publicly questioned its communication strategies and grasp of today's industry, and its credit rating is back on the brink of junk status.
A decade after the automaker's brush with collapse, clouds of uncertainty have settled over Ford World Headquarters again. An abrupt CEO change 16 months ago — the second time Henry Ford's great-grandson has installed an automotive novice to protect his family's legacy — has done little to appease shareholders and analysts.
Outside Ford, and among some within it, there is mounting impatience with $9 shares and the vagueness of the vision that CEO Jim Hackett has articulated thus far. Up on the 12th floor, Hackett admits that some organizational changes have taken about four months longer than he would have liked. But he bristles at the notion that Ford isn't moving fast enough, the stated flaw that felled his predecessor.
"We're addressing some long-term issues, and we're going to do those in very thoughtful and orderly ways — not chaotic ways," he told Automotive News last week. "We're not in a crisis. The company's in great shape."
Interviews with a half-dozen senior executives last week revealed new details of how the company is implementing Hackett's transformation plan, which includes new vehicle architectures, redesigned product lineups, a shortened order-to-delivery process and revamped organizational structures around the globe.
"All those things are evidence of what you would do as you're trying to make a company better," Hackett said. "It's why I'm not at all reeling from the criticism, because I know what we're doing from behind the scenes."
Bill Ford, the executive chairman whose last name adorns the roof just above Hackett's office, continues to give the CEO his full-throated support.
"I don't think it's even close to a crisis," Ford told reporters last week at a 100th anniversary celebration of the automaker's storied Rouge manufacturing complex. "We're still making good profitability."
Those profits, which were absent the last time Ford needed to execute a turnaround plan, appear to be buying time for Hackett, who conceded that he needs to produce concrete results. Ford might have alleviated some of the concerns last week, at a long-anticipated investor day, but a few months ago, it canceled the event while signaling the need for an $11 billion global restructuring.
"We're worried Ford does not have a good handle on either the operational or strategic levers of the global business," Barclays analyst Brian Johnson wrote July 26 in a blunt note to clients. Last week, Johnson wrote that, even if Ford fixes or sheds the unprofitable parts of its business, "We see little earnings upside and limited potential" for the stock price to rise considerably.
Hackett said he doesn't believe the Wall Street angst is "as pervasive as represented," noting that one analyst who had been critical of him apologized in person during a visit to New York last week. He said Ford has spent the first 16 months of his tenure developing 19 "fitness projects" to improve every aspect of the business.
"There's no one I know anywhere within 12 months of a company that's this old that in that short time is giving some kind of detail that answers every single question I was facing," Hackett said.
"We're about action now," he said. "I've made it clear to my team we have to demonstrate results. CEOs' licenses are extended based on results. I'm not worried that they aren't there, because all [of] these things we've built."