Ford announced Monday morning that Mark Fields, CEO since 2014, was stepping down, to be replaced by Ford Smart Mobility Chairman Jim Hackett, a former member of Ford’s board.
After the announcement, Hackett and Ford Chairman Bill Ford held a press conference with Wall Street analysts and the media.
According to both men, the decision to shake up Ford’s management team came quickly.
Following Ford’s annual shareholder meeting last week, Bill Ford said that “He and Fields got together and we decided it was the right time for him to resign,” adding that “at that time, we activated Jim as the new CEO.”
Hackett took over last Friday and said that he had met with Fields, who pledged his assistance.
Repeatedly during the press conference, Ford and Hackett stressed that the company needs to make faster decisions, so this move could be interpreted as the first sign of that cultural change. Fields had been with Ford 28 years and may have been seen as burdened with a traditional Detroit decision making culture being assailed by the quicker pace of Silicon Valley companies.
Ford’s market cap has been surpassed by Tesla, despite Tesla consistently losing money and selling less than 100,000 vehicles per year.
At the same time that Ford named Hackett, who retired as CEO of Steelcase before being invited to join Ford’s board, the carmaker elevated executives Jim Farley and Joe Hinrichs to new roles running the global auto business.
Farley was previously the president of Ford Europe and will now oversee regional divisions and global marketing. Hinrichs was formerly the president of the Americas and now will oversee global product development, manufacturing, and labour affairs.
Bill Ford and Hackett both spoke of the contributions of former CEO Alan Mulally, who developed a “One Ford” message as the company was battling through the financial crisis. However, with Farley’s lack of traditional auto experience and his recent focus on Ford’s future, it appeared outwardly that “One Ford” might become two Fords.
Ford said that wouldn’t happen.
“We don’t want one group to feel that they’re the cool group and that the other group is the left-out group,” he said. “The integration has to be real and complete.”
He added that it’s “important that we’re seen by our employees and ultimately the public as the Blue Oval,” using the colloquial term for Ford, based in the carmaker’s logo.
The “Blue Oval” sounds like Ford’s and Hackett’s version of Mulally’s One Ford idea, which itself evolved from a turnaround plan initiated by Fields, called the “Way Forward.”
In a response to a question from Business Insider, Hackett didn’t agree that Wall Street has been wrong about Ford, whose stock price declined over 30% during Fields’ tenure, at a time when the company was setting profit records.
“As it relates to the stock price, that’s a confidence that comes after we do the things we tell you we’re going to do,” Hackett said. “It’s a consequence. It’s not a leading indicator, it’s after we get things happening.”
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