Overnight Ford confirmed Mark Fields’ decision to retire as company CEO, as well as his immediate replacement by Jim Hackett. Hackett was previously the head of the company’s Smart Mobility division.
Today’s announcement confirms rumours that began swirling around the internet over the weekend. As noted in our earlier report, news of board-level dissatisfaction was becoming more widespread, with Fields facing a fiery round of questioning during Ford’s annual general meeting two weeks ago.
In an interview with CNBC today, Bill Ford, Ford Motor Company’s executive chairman, said: “I didn’t fire Mark, he chose to resign after a discussion he and I had on Friday. So, I think that’s very important.
“[stammers] We only decided on Friday that I would go and talk to Mark. So, I did, and we reached this conclusion, and we moved forward with Jim Hackett.”
Although Bill Ford acknowledged “all of us were acutely aware that the stock has been languishing”, he was was at pains to point out a “decision like this” wasn’t based solely on the company’s stock price.
Noting “this is a time of great opportunity and great change for us”, Bill Ford said “we need to be quicker in our decision making”, and the company needed greater “clarity in our messaging and communication”.
Ford’s share price has dropped from around US$17.24 ($23.16) when Fields took over to US$10.87 ($14.60) at the share market’s close on Friday, US time.
Above: Jim Hackett (left) and Bill Ford (right).
The chairman chose to frame Fields’ retirement and Hackett’s ascension as being born from a desire to have “a leader who’s transformed a company before”.
In summarising new CEO Hackett’s career, Ford said: “When he ran Steelcase, they weren’t the number one manufacturer and they defined themselves as a furniture manufacturer. He said, ‘No, let’s reimagine how the workspace of the future is going to be.’
“He did that, grew the revenues, and took the company to the number one spot in the industry.”
Bill Ford also compared new CEO Hackett to Alan Mulally, the former Boeing CEO who Bill Ford brought on board in 2006 to turn the company around.
Hackett first joined Ford’s board of directors in 2013. On March 10, 2016, he was named chairman of Ford Smart Mobility, a wholly owned subsidiary tasked with accelerating “the company’s plans to design, build, grow and invest in emerging mobility services”.
Prior to this, Hackett spent 33 years at Steelcase, rising from various low-level sales and marketing positions to become its CEO by the end of 1994, with the company swimming in red ink. He retired from the CEO’s chair in 2014, and left the company entirely in 2015.
According to a profile piece in M Live, Hackett helped to modernise the furniture maker, and return it to profitability and growth.
To do this, Hackett radically downsized the company, shuttering half of its factories and shedding around 12,000 jobs. Among the people he had to personally let go was the best man at his own wedding.
Above: Mark Fields, during happier times.
Fields took the reins as Ford’s CEO on July 1, 2014, after serving as chief operating officer under Alan Mulally for around two years.
He began his career at Ford in 1989, and rose to become managing director of the company’s operations in Argentina. In 1998, he was transferred over to Mazda, which at the time was controlled by Ford.
Starting out as their marketing director and then later president, he helped to turn Mazda around after it found itself battered first by the bursting of the bubble economy and then the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, as well as the Japanese automaker’s earlier overly ambitious plans to take on Toyota with a diverse selection of new brands and models.
After his stint in Asia, he took on roles in Europe, including heading up the Ford brand and the company’s Premier Automotive Group, which, at one stage, included Volvo, Aston Martin, Land Rover and Jaguar.
In 2005, he returned to his native USA, where he helped to turn around the company’s loss-making North American arm.
In an official statement released today by Ford Motor Company, Bill Ford was quoted as saying: “Mark Fields has been an outstanding leader and deserves a lot of credit for all he has accomplished in his many roles around the globe at Ford.
“His strong leadership was critical to our North American restructuring, our turnaround at the end of the last decade, and our record profits in the past two years.”
In addition to Fields’ departure, and Hackett’s rise to CEO, Ford has also confirmed details of a boardroom reshuffle, effective from June 1.
In addition to his existing role as head of Ford Europe, Middle East and Africa, Jim Farley will soon take the reins of the Americas and Asia Pacific divisions, global marketing sales and services, and Lincoln. He will also oversee the company’s strategy for electric and autonomous vehicles.
Joe Hinrichs will relinquish his role as head of the company’s Americas arm. Instead he will now lead the company’s global product development, manufacturing, quality assurance, purchasing, safety and sustainability teams.
Hackett’s old role as head of Smart Mobility will be assumed by Marcy Klevorn, who retains her position as chief information officer. Reporting to Klevorn will be Paul Ballew, the company’s new head of data and analytics.
Mark Truby will take over from Ray Day as the company’s head of communications. Until today, Truby was the head of Ford’s communications teams for Asia Pacific, and Europe, Middle East and Africa.