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Ford Australia/New Zealand has announced a major change at its summit, with president and CEO Bob Graziano to retire at the end of March.

Stepping into the boss’s shoes will be current vice-president of marketing, sales and service Graeme Whickman, a Ford veteran of 18 years who grew up in England and New Zealand and has played a role in Ford’s growth into China.

Whickman will be tasked with overseeing planned changes to Ford’s dealer network, improving its customer satisfaction, and looking after the rollout of 20 new models by 2020.

He will also be the founding chief at Ford’s new white collar headquarters in trendy Richmond, a far cry from the back-blocks of Broadmeadows, which is to become a dedicated research, design and development hub for global markets with 1500 staff, aligned with the proving ground in Victoria’s west.

Whickman will also inherit a company that has seen its sales drop 21 per cent this year so far, on top of an almost 9 per cent drop in 2014, and 3.5 per cent the year before.

Update: Management of the final stages of planned closures for Ford’s Australian assembly line and engine factories, due for completion at the end of 2016, will be based out of Ford’s regional hub for Asia Pacific in China, and not fall under Whickman. 

Graziano, 55, served with Ford for 32 years in an array of capacities, commencing as a sales analyst in Omaha, Nebraska in 1983.

There were eventually tenures as chairman and CEO of Ford China, president and CEO of Ford Southern Africa and as the executive vice-president for Mazda Motor Corporation when it was aligned with the Blue Oval.

He also spent years in various roles in South America, including as marketing manager of Ford Brazil. Graziano took the reigns at Ford Australia in late 2010.

Graziano

Above: Outgoing Ford Australia and New Zealand president and CEO Bob Graziano.

While the focus in recent times has been on Graziano’s leadership in Ford’s planned local turnaround, consisting of 20 new models by 2020 and a revitalisation of its dealer network, his real legacy is overseeing the announcement of Ford’s factory closures in 2016.

It was to Graziano that the task of announcing the planned shutdown of the Broadmeadows assembly line and Geelong engine plants in late 2016 fell. The 2013 decision, handed down to Graziano by Ford’s HQ in Dearborn, Michigan, cost about 1200 direct jobs.

Ford was the first to fall in a house of cards, with Holden and Toyota making similar decisions shortly afterwards.

It was a wrenching task, and Graziano today called it both an “important and difficult time” for the company.

“The progress we have made on transforming the business in the last two years has been dramatic – completely rethinking the experience our dealers deliver to our customers and dramatically improving sales and service satisfaction, securing robust agreements that will allow our manufacturing employees to move on from Ford with dignity and hope, announcing our new office near central Melbourne, and ensuring we can continue to serve our customers with 20 new vehicles by 2020.

“I am confident that this transformation will be successful and that we have the right team in place to accelerate that transformation.”




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