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Friday
May262017

Ford, Fields, Finances and the Future

By Christopher A. Sawyer

Ford's newly "retired" CEO, Mark FieldsWhen I awoke Monday morning to the news that Ford Motor Company would announce the “retirement” of company CEO Mark Fields later that day, my mind snapped back to the Ford press conference at this year’s Detroit auto show. It was, in a word, a disaster. A quick overview of the 2018 F-150 followed by a fleeting look at the yet-to-arrive Ranger pickup, and a closeup of the also yet-to-arrive Bronco SUV’s nameplate. Wow. Color me unimpressed, and concerned at the slow pace of new vehicle launches at Ford. Sure the Mulally era move to aluminum for the F-150 had siphoned off a lot of money that could have been used to launch new vehicles, but what had Ford done with the money it did have in the bank? The answer came when Fields predicted Ford would make a 20% return on its mobility investments — a wet dream considering its European ride sharing service had exactly zero customers in its first six months of operation according to press reports. Soon I was turning to my Cars in Context TV co-conspirator, John Clor, and saying something along the lines of, “Well, Mark isn’t long for this world, is he?”

Yet, to hear the pundits and analysts tell it, you’d think that Fields hadn't pushed Ford far enough fast enough along that long autonomous road to Utopia, where every car is electric, and every driver is freed from the task of driving. The only problem with that scenario is that Ford is one of the leaders in the so-called mobility race. It may not have a self-driving system like Tesla’s Autopilot on the market right now, but it has all of the pieces in place to move in that direction quickly, and on a scale and at a profit level of which Tesla can only dream. It also has a place out in Palo Alto, California whose sole focus is studying and creating multimodal urban travel solutions.

Bill Ford (right) was impressed that new CEO Jim Hackett (left) was known and revered in Silican Valley. But does Ford need tech-related bling or fresh, competitive product to cure its ills?Tesla is the darling of Wall Street. Elon Musk — who was just an investor in Tesla before he took control — is hailed as the new Henry Ford, and the one who will drive us to a clean, green future. The only problem with that is Wall Street analysts know precious little about the auto industry and its buyers, and the hype behind Tesla (a company that has been profitable for a total of two quarters in its 14-year history) is based on them not wanting to miss a ride on the next Apple or Amazon. Some of this hype also is driven by auto writers who breathlessly await the electrified future, while an even larger amount is pushed by the car companies themselves as they try to reassert their relevance in a financial market dominated by technology stocks. Ford, which has no clear, concise story to tell Wall Street (or for that matter, auto writers and the general public; a good reason for also “retiring” the head of PR) is one of the biggest offenders. One more thing. Ford’s pre-tax 2017 profits are projected to be $9 billion. That’s $2 billion more than Tesla’s total revenue in 2016.

Then there’s the debt load Ford is carrying. Most Wall Street analysts take a look at the company’s total debt, divide that by its equity, and come top with the debt-to-equity (D/E) ratio. Anything over one means debt far exceeds equity. Ford’s D/E ratio is three to four times that of GM. Except that Ford Credit, the most profitable part of the Ford Motor Company, adds to that debt load by making loans to consumers and dealerships which also brings in revenue. Unfortunately, that isn’t measured by the D/E ratio. Exclude Ford Credit, however, and Ford’s automotive debt is at decade low levels. It still needs to do more to catch up to GM’s automotive debt, though cutting the salaried workforce is a short term (and short-sighted) fix. 

This is the concept that wowed the public, and got them thinking about a new Bronco. Unfortunately, what they'll be getting in 2019 is a four-door similar to Ford's Everest SUV.New Ford CEO Jim Hackett has been sold as a turnaround specialist and a forward thinker who will unlock Ford’s potential. How exactly? In some autonomous/electric future that will take decades longer to arrive than the hype would have you believe? Or perhaps they mean in the manner he pushed Steelcase to regain its top slot in the office furniture trade. Yeah, about that. During Hackett’s 18 years at Steelcase, stock price fell by more than 55%, and — according to Reuters — delivered a total return, including reinvested dividends, of negative 22.3%. In addition, the same report states the company, on both a price and total return basis, underperformed its main competitors by substantial margins on a cumulative basis. But he’s loved and known by the folks in Silicon Valley, and apparently that’s all that really matters.

Which brings us to Ford’s real problem: It has the oldest fleet of cars in the industry, no modular platform(s), and a growing aversion to taking risks. In the weeks before he was fired — sorry — before he retired, Fields was quoted as saying that the car market is basically dead, and Ford should shift its priorities to making more SUVs. Not only did this sound like Sergio Marchionne’s recent pronouncements on the same topic, it was nearly as silly as an earlier Fields plan. Back in the dark days before Alan Mulally, Fields and the stunningly incompetent Elena Ford hatched a plan to increase the desirability of Ford’s milquetoast product line by tying them to its most popular car and truck models, the Mustang and F-150. It even got as far as the the Interceptor Concept sedan being referred to as the “Mustang Interceptor” in preliminary materials. (Personally, I was looking forward to the Mustang Focus station wagon.) Lincoln, on the other hand, would be given the “Mark” (“Mk”) designation formerly used on the brand’s Continental coupes. To make them more “European”, they would be followed by a letter, as in Mk Z, Mk X, etc. This lack of focus and aversion to risk nearly killed the company. Now it hopes more crossovers and the like will save it from itself. How exactly?

The Mustang is expensive, overweight and aimed at an aging demographic. Where's the Millennial generation's Mustang, and -- even if it knew what that vehicle might be -- would Ford have the guts to build it?If we’re honest, the Mustang is a fat, expensive performance car aimed at a demographic that is aging rapidly. Where is the sporty, beautiful, expensive looking, economical, reliable and quick B/C-sized car that will take its place with Millennials? Why is the Focus nearly as old as Methuselah? Where are the updates for the rapidly aging Escape? What, if anything, will replace the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT or, for that matter, the Taurus? And what about the Bronco? Word is that it’s a Ranger-based four-door SUV nearly identical to the Australian Ford Everest. How about a modified T4 Troller (in both two- and four-door body styles) that doesn’t sail so closely to the new Explorer instead? Further, if Ford really wants to get into the electric vehicle trade, how about negotiating a deal with VW to use its new modular electric vehicle platform? With plans to build more than a million EVs in the next decade, VW will be looking for partners to keep unsold units from piling up on dealer lots. And we haven’t even gotten to Lincoln yet. It still can’t decide on whether it will build a world-class rear-drive platform at a time when Hyundai’s Genesis is in its second generation. As for its use of Ford platforms under its bread-and-butter cars, at least make high-performance all-wheel drive standard across the board and come up with a cool single word name for it. By the way, “quattro” is taken.

As you can see, the list of troubles is long, and has little to do with not moving quickly enough to grab pole position in an electrified autonomously driven future that may never arrive. While Mark Fields may not have been the right guy to lead the organization, it’s painfully clear that it’s time for Bill Ford to take Jim Hackett with him to the perennially underperforming Detroit Lions and rebuild that organization, while Joe Hinrichs reboots the product development, marketing, and public relations functions without the family’s interference. Anything less won’t do.

 

Not long after this was written, Ford released a statement outlining a number of management changes made in the aftermath of Field’s firing. The rapidity suggests Hackett’s placement as head of Ford’s mobility unit was a placeholder that gave him the chance to get operational experience inside the company, while sizing up executives. The release is reprinted below.

 

Ford Announces Global Leadership Team Appointments

 

DEARBORN, Mich., May 25, 2017 – Ford Motor Company today announced senior leadership appointments around the world, completing the newly reorganized team led by President and CEO Jim Hackett.

“The leadership changes we are announcing today across our global business are important as we foster even greater teamwork, accountability and nimble decision-making,” Hackett said. “I am excited to work together with Bill Ford and such a talented and diverse group of leaders to create a more vibrant Ford that delivers value for all of our stakeholders.”

Hackett was announced as president and CEO on Monday by Executive Chairman Bill Ford. The two leaders emphasized three priorities:

Sharpening operational execution across the global business while decisively addressing underperforming parts of the business

Modernizing Ford’s business, using new tools and techniques to unleash innovation, speed decision making, improve efficiency and more

Transforming to meet future challenges, ensuring the company has the right culture, talent, strategic processes and nimbleness to succeed as society’s needs and consumer behavior changes over time

At the same time, Ford named three new leaders reporting to Hackett – Global Markets, Global Operations and Mobility. Consistent with this shift, new leadership appointments are being announced within each of the three new functions:

Global Markets: Reporting to Jim Farley, executive vice president and president, Global Markets, new appointments and changes include:

• Raj Nair is named executive vice president and president, North America,succeeding Joe Hinrichs. Nair, 52, previously served as executive vice president, Product Development, and chief technical officer, leading the company’s global Product Development operations and playing a key role in the company’s mobility efforts. His new appointment is effective June 1.

• As part of previously planned organizational change, Dave Schoch, group vice president and president Asia Pacific, has announced his intention to retire, after 40 years with Ford.

Schoch, 66, has led the company’s Asia Pacific operations for the past five years during the biggest and most aggressive expansion within the region in Ford history. He has served in a variety of positions around the world, including controller, The Americas; executive director, Ford Canada, Mexico and South America; chief financial officer and vice president of Strategic Planning for Ford of Europe, and chief financial officer of Ford Asia-Pacific Operations. His retirement is effective Aug. 1.

“Dave has been a fantastic leader and a role model for many at Ford during his four decades in the company,” Hackett said. “Over the past five years, Dave has been a key architect of our tremendous growth in China, and overall success in Asia Pacific.”

• Peter Fleet is named group vice president and president, Asia Pacific, succeeding Dave Schoch. Fleet, 50, will lead all Ford’s operations and partnerships in Asia Pacific. As chairman and CEO of Ford China, he also will lead Ford’s operations in China – including Lincoln, the Ford China import business as well as Ford’s passenger car joint venture, Changan Ford, and investment with Jiangling Motors Corporation. His appointment is effective July 1. Fleet previously served as vice president, Marketing, Sales and Service, Asia Pacific.

• Mark Ovenden is named vice president, Marketing, Sales and Service, Asia Pacific. Ovenden, 53, will lead the Marketing, Sales and Service functions across the Asia Pacific region, reporting to Fleet. Mark also is elected a company officer. His appointment is effective July 1. Ovenden previously served as president and CEO, Ford Sollers, where he led the transformation of Ford’s operations in Russia for the past two years.

• Steven Armstrong is appointed group vice president and president, Europe, Middle East & Africa, succeeding Jim Farley. In this role, Armstrong, 52, will have overall responsibility for Ford of Europe and Ford Middle East and Africa. His appointment is effective June 1. Armstrong previously served as vice president and chief operating officer, Ford of Europe.

• Sherif Marakby is appointed to a newly created position of vice president, Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification, effective June 12. He is elected a corporate officer. Marakby, 51, previously worked at Ford for more than 25 years, serving in a variety of leadership positions in Product Development in North America and Europe. He has extensive background in electrification, having led the team to deliver a battery electric vehicle, plug-in hybrid vehicles, and hybrid electric vehicles.

Global Operations: New appointments reporting to Joe Hinrichs, executive vice president and president, Global Operations include:

• Hau Thai-Tang is appointed executive vice president, Product Development and Purchasing. Following more than 25 years in global Product Development, Thai-Tang, 50, has advanced Ford’s global Purchasing operations with numerous supplier-partner led innovations and delivered significant material cost savings. In this expanded role, effective June 1, both organizations now report to Thai-Tang.

Mobility: New appointments reporting to Marcy Klevorn, executive vice president and president, Mobility include:

• Neil Schloss is appointed vice president and chief financial officer, Mobility,effective Aug. 1. Schloss, 58, previously served as vice president and treasurer for Ford, and chief financial officer of Ford Smart Mobility LLC, a subsidiary formed to design, build, grow and invest in emerging mobility services.

• Jeff Lemmer is appointed vice president and chief operating officer, Information Technology, effective June 1. In this role, Lemmer, 51, is responsible for automotive-related application development and running the day-to-day operations, including networks, data centers and employee collaboration tools. He also is elected a corporate officer. Lemmer previously was Director, IT Operations.

The appointment of a chief information officer will be the subject of a future announcement.

Also today, the following leadership changes are being announced:

• Bradley Gayton is appointed group vice president, chief administrative officer and general counsel, effective June 1. He will continue to report to Jim Hackett. Gayton leads the company’s litigation, tax, corporate and intellectual property efforts, including the General Auditor’s Office. In this expanded role, he is responsible for Ford Land and Corporate Services, which includes the company’s security, and global travel and events operations. He previously served as group vice president and general counsel.

• Ken Washington is appointed vice president, Research and Advanced Engineering, and chief technology officer, effective June 1, reporting to Jim Hackett. Washington, 56, previously served as vice president of Research and Advanced Engineering, leading Ford’s worldwide research organizations, and overseeing the development and implementation of the company’s technology strategy. He will add chief technical officer responsibilities in this expanded role.

• Kenneth R. Kent is appointed vice president and treasurer, succeeding Neil Schloss. With his new appointment, effective Aug. 1, he also is elected a corporate officer. Responsible for the company’s overall treasury operations, Kent, 54, reports to Bob Shanks, executive vice president and chief financial officer. He previously served as controller, The Americas.

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