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Ford's new CEO promises a fit - but fun - company

Ford's new CEO promises a fit - but fun - company

Fields is replaced by Jim Hackett, the former board member who took control of a new mobility system developed by the company to broaden into new locations of transport. "He's not just a futurist".

Ford said a year ago it plans to spend about $5.5 billion on research and development on electric and self-driving cars.

Hackett's mission in his new role will include reshaping Ford's management structure, which remains a hierarchy patterned on the USA military.

"Bill is going to be a sounding board for me", said Hackett.

Hackett's track record: in three decades as the CEO of Steelcase, his "remarkable tenure" turned around the Grand Rapids, Mich. -based company into a major innovator in the commercial furniture business and a lauded employer.

But this narrative also gets a whole lot fuzzier the closer you examine it.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Hackett graduated from the University of MI in 1977, with a degree in finance, where he was also a center for the football team. "I want to see us differentiate ourselves". Ford ended up recalling more than 20 million Firestone tires and the scandal ended the 100-year partnership between Ford and Firestone.

That was the sobering conclusion after a series of extraordinary meetings this month culminated Monday with an abrupt exit by Fields, whose almost three-year tenure as chief executive left Ford struggling to keep pace with new technologies like self-driving cars and the relentless pressure from Wall Street to deliver profits now amid a slowing USA auto market. Fields opened an office in Silicon Valley to hire talented young researchers and scout out promising startups. Ford has already begun that process: Last week, before Fields left, the company said it would cut 1,400 white-collar jobs in North America and Asia. While Fields was focused on a new performance division and the $450,000 GT supercar, important bread-and-butter products like the Fusion sedan and Escape SUV grew dated.

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Investors clearly have their doubts as to whether Ford is up for these challenges.

And the company can not pivot quickly. It notes that while Fields talked of making Ford a "mobility" company, the company's efforts sometimes "felt like tactics in search of a strategy". With sport utility vehicles and truck models in greater demand in the US, the company didn't announce until January that it would revive the Ranger mid-size pickup and Bronco SUV models. The unit also bought Israeli company SAIPS to advance its machine learning algorithms for self-driving cars. Ford's board didn't think Mark Fields was up to the task, but no one's won that race so far.

December 2015: Ford ends the year with a 14.9 percent share of USA new vehicle sales.

The long simmering battle between Uber and Waymo, the self-driving research arm of Google, appears to be settling down. "In fact we're going to use parts of it in the way we monitor success". Ford shares closed Monday at $11.10, up about 2 percent.

But there were rumblings of frustration over the pace of change as Ford lagged behind rivals in bringing long-range electric cars to market.

Modernizing Ford's business by driving innovation, speeding up decision making and improving efficiency. But Fields, a Harvard MBA from New Jersey, had more trouble relating to and inspiring the Ford rank and file. In the wake of Fields's abrupt firing on Monday, what was most remarked upon was the pounding the company's stock had taken during his three years in the top job, dropping some 36 percent.

Ford earned more than $25 billion in profits in the past four years, helped largely by the surging US auto and truck market.

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