Many were shocked by the news that Joe Hinrichs suddenly decided to retire from Ford Motor Co. It appears he was nearly as blindsided, having rallied his troops just weeks before with a commitment to each other to do better in this busy 2020.
But no one should have been so surprised that palace intrigue would again return to the Glass House after the departure of Alan Mulally.
Ford, after all, has a tradition of toppled executives longer than the F-series' run as America's bestselling pickup line.
In that vein, the darkest theory might be that CEO Jim Hackett and COO-in-waiting Jim Farley pinned the Explorer launch stumble on Hinrichs and used it to eliminate a rival for the top (non-family-member) job.
But it might just be a matter of a former football guy — Hackett was a backup center for Bo Schembechler at the University of Michigan — making a gridiron-style move. With Ford stock depressed after another disappointing financial year, Hackett is no different from the head coach who fires his defensive coordinator to show the owners and fans that he's willing to make tough calls and change direction.
For dealers, suppliers and others tied to the traditional automotive side of Ford's business, it may not be clear which direction Coach Hackett wants the company to go.
He indicated that the elevation of Farley reflects the need to lean harder into the new technologies and business opportunities.
That sounds smart, in an era of profound change. But when the old business mints billions fairly reliably and the new businesses show no signs of making money, some stakeholders might be reasonably wary.
Ford has some promising investments, including Argo AI and Rivian. Those companies look good enough to attract other big backers, such as Volkswagen and Amazon.
At the same time, Ford's abandonment of Chariot (shuttle vans) and Canvas (subscriptions) has only reinforced the skeptics' view that manufacturers are ill-suited to compete in mobility services.
The Ford community was clearly sad to see Hinrichs, one of the industry's most-respected executives, leave the company. But it also appreciates Farley's energy and enthusiasm.
What next? Given the pace of change, it won't be long before we know whether Hackett's latest play has worked.