Does this Ford have a better idea? Automaker’s new chief thinks so

  • Tuesday, October 30, 2001 9:00pm
  • Business

Associated Press

DEARBORN, Mich. — The Ford name has always been at the top of the automaker’s headquarters, but the ascension of William Clay Ford Jr. to president and chief executive officer puts a Ford family member at the top of Ford Motor Co. for the first time in 22 years.

"I love this company. I bleed Ford blue," Ford told employees Tuesday morning from an auditorium at the automaker’s headquarters. "We’ve been given an amazing legacy, and we’re going to build an even better one," he said.

Ford, 44, is a great-grandson of founder Henry Ford. He has been chairman of the company since 1999, but left most of the day-to-day activities to Jacques Nasser, who was ousted Monday.

The last Ford family member to serve as CEO was Henry Ford II, who resigned in 1979.

"This seemed to be the right time," Ford said at a news conference at company headquarters. He said events such as the Firestone tire controversy and lawsuits against the automaker were distracting Nasser from focusing on the company’s core automotive business.

Ford said Nasser resigned following a meeting Monday afternoon between the two at the company’s world headquarters. The move was made official during a Tuesday morning board meeting, Ford said.

Christopher Cedergren, managing director at automotive marketing firm Nextrend, said Nasser "dropped the ball."

"The family lost confidence in Jac in not thinking he could change his vision," Cedergren said. "What’s unfortunate is it’s great to have ideas, but first you have to cover the bases, and … build a good car."

A Ford spokeswoman who handled media inquiries for Nasser said he is declining interviews at this time.

Assuming the duties as president and CEO was not something he sought, Ford said, but it was something the board thought was necessary. He said he intends to do the jobs "for the foreseeable future."

Aside from his pedigree, Ford has a 22-year work history at the company. He joined in 1979 as a product planning analyst and held a number of positions in manufacturing, sales, marketing, product development and finance.

In 1982, he served on the bargaining team for contract talks with the United Auto Workers.

Ford subsequently was chairman and managing director of Ford Switzerland and elected to the Ford Motor Co. board of directors in 1988.

Ford brushed aside any thoughts he would be a figurehead family member farming out most of the heavy management duties.

"When I approach this, I don’t approach it as a family member going into the job, I approach it as somebody who loves this company and is worried about the situation that we find ourselves in and is determined to fix it," Ford said.

Fixing the company will take some major repairs, one analyst said.

"They will have to have more aggressive cost cutting and will likely terminate some of Jacques Nasser’s programs to turn Ford into a company that deals with the entire vehicle lifetime from initial sales, repair, to trade-ins and recycling," said Efraim Levy, senior automotive analyst for Standard &Poor’s.

Through September, sales of Ford vehicles were down 11 percent from the first nine months of 2000, a record sales year for the industry. By the third quarter of 2001, Ford’s losses dipped to $692 million, a reversal from the same quarter a year earlier, when it earned $888 million.

Ford shares fell 16 cents to $16.05 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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