Commentary

Mobility Chief Hackett Replacing Fields As Ford CEO

Ford CEO Mark Fields will be put to pasture this morning and replaced by former Steelcase CEO Jim Hackett, according to numerous reports. Hackett, 62, has been leading Ford Smart Mobility, the subsidiary that is developing its autonomous capabilities among other endeavors, since March 2016.

Forbes’ Joann Muller had the story first late yesterday with other outlets adding context in the wee hours this morning. 

“The shakeup is a result of executive chairman Bill Ford and the rest of the board losing confidence in Fields’ leadership, according to people familiar with the board’s thinking. Fields replaced Alan Mulally in mid-2014, but lacked his predecessor’s ability to rally employees around a common mission or to make critical decisions about the company's strategy,” Muller writes. 

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“Ford, which expects about $9 billion in pre-tax profit this year, has lost market share and been unable to convince investors to buy its stock. Its share price is down 40% under Fields,” she continues.

Ford had no direct comment on the reports as of 7:20 a.m. EDT. Last week, you may recall, it announced that it would be laying off 10% of its salaried workforce worldwide.

“We are staying focused on our plan for creating value and profitable growth,” a Ford spokesman in Europe told Reuters’ Laurence Frost and David Shepardson while “declining to comment ‘on speculation or rumors.’”

For the record, Fields, 56, is “retiring,” reports say, after 28 years at the company. The event “would mark a grim end of what had been a long rise through the ranks at the nation's second-largest automaker,” writes Chris Woodyard for USA Today. “Fields is known for being smart and tough — an executive who never ducked a fight when he came to making a case for his beliefs. In public, he exuded an easy confidence.

“A Rutgers graduate with a Harvard MBA, Fields distinguished himself in foreign postings. He was best known for transforming Japan's Mazda, at the time a Ford unit, from a money-loser in the early 2000s into a winner,” Woodyard continues.

“From a stylistic point of view, it's a sharp shift. Hackett's personable approach comes off as more folksy, but he is known for making tough decisions, too. He authorized job cuts at Steelcase and helped reshape the company's corporate culture during a two-decade tenure as CEO,” write Nathan Bomey and Brent Snavely, also for USA Today.

Ford Smart Mobility, the unit Hackett has been running, “was formed in 2016 as an effort to accelerate the company’s metamorphosis into an auto and mobility company. Its aim was to aggressively pursue emerging opportunities and ‘be a leader in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience and data and analytics,’ according to Ford,” Thomas Ricker writes for The Verge. “Hackett’s promotion is a clear sign that Ford thinks the transformation isn’t happening quickly enough.”  

“Mark Fields was given the nearly impossible task of making the utterly conventional auto manufacturer, Ford Motor Company, into a high-tech information-style company with share values to match,”  Jack Nerad, editorial director for Kelley Blue Book, tells the Associated Press’ Dee-Ann Durbin. “Despite turning in credible profits, Fields was unable to turn Ford into a stock market darling, and that may well prove elusive going forward.”

In other personnel changes, the New York Times’ Bill Vlasic reports, “Joseph R. Hinrichs, head of Ford’s critical Americas division, will expand his role to become executive vice president for global operations. James D. Farley Jr., who runs Ford’s European unit, has been appointed to oversee worldwide sales and marketing. And the company’s chief technical officer, Marcy Klevorn, will take over Hackett’s duties as chief of mobility initiatives.” 

Also, Mark Truby, who has led Ford’s communications teams in Asia and Europe, will succeed Raymond F. Day as communications chief. 

“While Ford’s relative earnings performance has underwhelmed investors of late, Hackett is less well known among auto investors than other members of Ford’s management team,” Evercore ISI analyst Arndt Ellinghorst tellsFinancial Times’ John Murray Brown and Peter Campbell.

“Meanwhile, should Hackett be appointed, given his present role as chairman of Ford Smart Mobility, investors will question whether this means Ford is looking to expedite and increase its investments in future technologies?”

If it’s not, it might as well bring back buggy whips.

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