Ford ousts CEO, taps head of autonomous-vehicle unit as successor

May 22, 2017

Ford Motor Co. is replacing embattled CEO Mark Fields with Jim Hackett, a turnaround specialist who has been leading the automaker’s moves into self-driving cars and ride sharing, according to a person familiar with the move. 

The company is set to announce Monday in Detroit that Fields, 56, is retiring and Hackett will move up from his position as head of Ford’s Smart Mobility unit, said the person, who asked not to be identified revealing internal plans.

Hackett, 62, revived the fortunes of office furniture maker Steelcase as CEO from 1994 to 2014, and his promotion indicates Ford is looking to seize on that expertise as consumer demands change. Fields’ departure comes amid a more than 30 percent plunge in Ford’s stock since Fields took the helm in July 2014, and shareholders have assailed management over the strategy at the company, which announced a voluntary buyout program last week to show it was moving to cut costs.

“It’s surprising how quickly Fields is being replaced,” said Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany. “Ford isn’t exactly in crisis, but this development shows that shareholder value is more in focus,” even as carmakers face pressure to invest in technology where the payoff is uncertain.

Ford also is ousting Fields’s communications chief Ray Day and replacing him with Mark Truby, a former newspaper reporter who had most recently been leading Ford’s communications in Asia, the person said.

Hackett, who joined Ford’s board of directors in 2013, was appointed in March 2016 as chairman of Ford Smart Mobility, according to his profile on the company’s website. The unit was formed to accelerate Ford’s foray into emerging mobility services.

He worked at Grand Rapids, Michigan-based office furniture maker Steelcase for two decades. He was recognized for predicting the office landscape would shift away from cubicles to an open-space environment, and transformed the traditional manufacturer of office furniture, the profile showed.

Hackett led a major reorganization at Steelcase that involved deep cuts in the workforce, including personally pink-slipping the best man from his wedding, according to Automotive News. After Steelcase, Hackett became athletic director of the University of Michigan at a time of turmoil and hired Jim Harbaugh to return the football team to its winning ways.

Fields has been under scrutiny by Ford’s board, which scheduled extra meeting time to drill him on his plans for reversing the company’s fortunes, according to a person familiar with the discussions. The CEO has been pouring billions into self-driving cars and ride-sharing experiments as its traditional-car business has struggled far more than at General Motors Co. in a slowing U.S. market.

Fields joined Ford in July 1989 and helped its businesses through several tough situations before he was named to the top job in July 2014.

In 2000, Fields became CEO of Mazda Motor Corp., in which Ford had a controlling stake at the time. He led a turnaround at Mazda with several Ford executives with whom he later worked to revive the U.S. automaker’s North American business.

Promoted to chief operating officer in December 2012, Fields took over as CEO from Alan Mulally, the former Boeing Co. executive who steered Ford through the global economic crisis and avoided the bailouts and bankruptcies that burdened the predecessors of GM and Chrysler Group LLC.

Fields is leading an overhaul of Ford’s business model so the company can take on self-driving cars from the likes of Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and Uber Technologies Inc. He has warned the cost of investing in new technologies would reduce profits last year and this year before rebounding in 2018.

Ford’s first-quarter adjusted earnings fell 42 percent, while GM appears on pace for another record annual profit. Net income at Ford plunged 38 percent last year.


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