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Ford Names James Hackett As New CEO

Ford Motor Co abruptly named James Hackett as chief executive on Monday, responding to investors' growing unease about the U.S. automaker's slumping stock price and its ability to counter threats from longtime rivals and Silicon Valley.

Reuters

Updated:May 23, 2017, 2:55 PM IST
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Ford Names James Hackett As New CEO
The logo of Ford is seen during the 87th International Motor Show at Palexpo in Geneva, Switzerland.(Image: REUTERS)
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Ford Motor Co abruptly named James Hackett as chief executive on Monday, responding to investors' growing unease about the U.S.automaker's slumping stock price and its ability to counter threats from longtime rivals and Silicon Valley.

Hackett, 62, a turnaround expert who for the past year has led the Ford unit developing self-driving cars and related projects, replaces Mark Fields, 56, who spent less than three years as CEO.

Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr. said he wanted Hackett to speed up decision-making and cut costs, but did not offer specifics on how the new CEO should change operations at the U.S. No. 2automaker.

Newly named Ford Motor Company president and CEO James Hackett. (Image: REUTERS) Newly named Ford Motor Company president and CEO James Hackett. (Image: REUTERS)

"The clock speed at which our competitors are working …requires us to make decisions at a faster pace," Ford said.

Ford, once the most financially secure of the 'Big Three' Detroit automakers, and the only one not to take U.S. government money in the U.S. auto industry bailout a decade ago, reported record profit in 2015, but now finds itself under pressure on all sides as overall U.S. auto sales fall.

Rival General Motors Co is aggressively targeting Ford's share of the lucrative North American truck and sport utility business, the source of 90 percent of Ford's profit.

Meanwhile, investors see Ford as a laggard in the shift toward electric vehicles, self-driving technology and ride-sharing. Ford's $44 billion market value is less than electric car pioneer Tesla Inc's $51 billion.

Bill Ford indicated the company would take more aggressive action to cut costs. "We have to modernize the business" and move "decisively to address underperforming areas," he said.

Ford Motor Company CEO Mark Fields speaks at the 2017 New York International Auto Show in New York City. (Image: REUTERS) Ford Motor Company CEO Mark Fields speaks at the 2017 New York International Auto Show in New York City. (Image: REUTERS)

Hackett, who overhauled furniture maker Steelcase Inc and then turned around the ailing University of Michigan football program, becomes the latest in a line of non-family CEOs brought in with a mandate to change the management culture at one of the auto industry's oldest institutions.

As CEO of Steelcase, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Hackett slashed thousands of jobs and then refocused the company on innovation.

A former Ford director and interim athletic director at the University of Michigan, Hackett was tapped in March 2016 to run Ford Smart Mobility, a unit established to oversee and coordinate forays into autonomous driving, ride sharing and other ventures.

In that role, he helped oversee Ford's acquisition of San Francisco ride-sharing company Chariot and its $1 billion investment in Argo AI, a self-driving startup focussed on robotics and artificial intelligence.

The shake-up at Ford may bring scrutiny to its own plans in the region. The company posted a record $1.2 billion profit in Europe last year but warned that the impact of Britain's vote to leave the European Union would put a dent in 2017 earnings.

Under a broader shake-up announced on Monday, former Ford of Europe chief Jim Farley will become president of a new "Global Markets" group that will include Ford's regional sales and marketing operations around the world as well as its Lincoln luxury brand.

 

The company is also putting government relations and corporate communications under Ford Jr., and Hackett said the great-grandson of Henry Ford would have a higher public profile.

The automaker has tangled with U.S. President Donald Trump, who spent more than a year criticizing it on the campaign trail for expanding operations in Mexico.

But Trump praised Ford in January for scrapping a planned Mexican car factory and announcing plans to add 700 jobs in Michigan. Fields, who made several trips to the White House this year, said Ford would have made the decision regardless of who was president.

Fields, who earned $22.1 million in 2016 and had a 28-year-career at Ford, also faced a clamor for share repurchases at the company's annual meeting earlier this month.

Ford said last week it would cut 1,400 staff positions in North America and Asia, a small fraction of the 20,000 job reductions some news outlets had reported were imminent.

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