DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. stock lost 35 percent of its value in the three years that Mark Fields was CEO.
Under his successor, Jim Hackett, the stock has fallen 38 percent.
Despite an overhaul of the product lineup and his $11 billion restructuring to make the company a more agile competitor, the continued decline in Ford's valuation on Wall Street may be how shareholders primarily remember the former Steelcase CEO who was brought in as a "cultural change agent."
After coming out of retirement to replace Fields in the hopes of reinvigorating the automaker, Hackett will leave behind a legacy of mixed results. That could change depending on how Ford does in the coming years under Jim Farley.
"I was always impressed by the fact he was always thinking ahead," said Rhett Ricart, CEO of Ricart Automotive Group. "He made a lot of good moves behind the scenes that I think he'll get more credit for as time goes on. I think he did an admirable job in very tough circumstances."
Hackett streamlined Ford's operations, which included eliminating thousands of salaried jobs, and gave remaining workers the ability to act quicker with less bureaucracy to navigate. He introduced new phrases to the Ford lexicon — such as "fitness," "clock speed" and "design thinking" — but his abstract way of speaking hurt his ability to win the confidence of workers and dealers, especially early on.
Hackett told Ford employees to separate issues into the "now," "near" and "far," likening the view to a bull's-eye with those words in concentric circles. His job, he told them, is to manage Ford in each of those circles to ensure success.
"For his ability to drive change into a company like Ford, I think history will be very kind," Farley told Automotive News.
The upcoming Mustang Mach-E electric crossover and Bronco SUV have been received positively, but quality problems marred last year's launch of a redesigned Ford Explorer.
Profits frequently lagged the results posted across town by General Motors. After a "mediocre" performance in 2018, Hackett urged employees to "bury the year in a deep grave." In 2019, which he promised would be a "year of execution," the Explorer problems contributed to a 99 percent drop in profits. Then Ford suffered more setbacks from the coronavirus pandemic this spring, though it reported better-than-expected second-quarter results last week.
After some dealers complained that Hackett was too aloof in his first year as CEO, he apologized and promised to be more accessible. In the end, many dealers came to speak positively about him and the changes he made.
"I don't know that you can give him a grade that isn't an A or a B, from a dealer perspective," Ricart said. "Now if you're an investor, you'll say that you aren't making any money on your investment … but in the grand scheme of things, there's some hot product that's coming."
Hackett pushed back the timeline for Ford to roll out autonomous vehicles, saying the company and others in the industry "overestimated" how quickly the technology would be ready.
At the 2018 Automotive News World Congress, nine months into his tenure, Hackett dismissed speculation that he wanted to get back to retirement quickly.
"Every month on the Ford job is a marble in a jar," Hackett said at the time. "Imagine there's 84 marbles in that jar. I've now taken nine out. The wisdom in that is how fast they go."
In the end, Hackett will have taken out fewer than half of those 84 marbles. But he told Automotive News last December that he already was seeing real progress in his transformation plan for Ford.
"I see a dramatic improvement in the business," Hackett said. "When I came in, it was my observation that it had been frozen a little bit, like caught in amber. Everything that was great about it was frozen. ... Ford needed to break the amber and start to transform."
Michael Martinez contributed to this report.