When a fire at a key supplier threatened to cripple production of the profit-rich F-150 pickup in May, Hau Thai-Tang led an extraordinary effort to fix the problem within days that involved camping outside the charred plant and flying an 87,000-pound tool across the Atlantic Ocean in a massive Russian cargo plane.
Thai-Tang, 52, received the first call about the incident at a mid-Michigan magnesium parts plant about five hours after the blaze began. Ford workers were on site that same day, even though they couldn't yet go inside. Ford knew from previous experiences to bring structural engineers from its construction supplier to the site. Their assessment of the plant's structural integrity persuaded the fire marshal to let Ford inside the building within 24 hours of the fire.
Ford recovered tools and other machinery and made contingency plans to build the F-150 parts elsewhere around the world. At one point, it used an Antonov An-124 Russian plane to move a die to a plant in the United Kingdom.
F-150 production was down for a little more than a week and cost the company $591 million, but it could have been much worse. Ford prides itself on having detailed information about each supplier and which ones might be susceptible to disruptions, including calculations on recovery time and the potential financial impact.
"If you can do that analysis across your value chain, you can learn how to prioritize and manage risk," Thai-Tang said. "You have to be able to access the plan."