Ford president of the Americas, Mark Fields, needs to visit his mom more often. What with the daily pressures of saving Ford and all, he could use a bit more of his very down-to-earth mother's brand of support. Elinor Fields lives not far from the old family home in Paramus, New Jersey. She is the mother behind a son who has navigated his way through an economics degree at Rutgers, an MBA at Harvard, and what has been a stunning career at Ford. Fields headed Mazda in Japan at age 38, the youngest person to ever run a Japanese car company. He went on to lead the Premier Automotive Group, now dismantled, and he sits at the right hand of Alan Mulally, trying to move his Way Forward program, well, forward.
Today, though, Mark is seated at his mom's left hand, home for a rare lunch while the PR team readies the Flex press fleet for an event in New York. "He always followed his brothers. At A&S department store, Mark worked in Men's Pants, Lee was in Linens, Howard wired the Music Department," says Mrs. Fields, an elegant woman whose flawless skin and thick mane of dark hair make her look fifteen years younger than her actual age. "All three went to Rutgers. They were in the same fraternity. They had the same part-time job in college. All of them worked at IBM."
She hasn't seen her boy in a while, and she's laid out a spread that covers the dining room table. "He told me, 'Ma, I'm bringing someone for lunch, but she's diabetic, so just make tea,' " she laughs. "I said to him, 'What are you talking about?' "
There is a plate of roast beef and seven salads - tuna salad, egg salad, tomato salad, and so on. "I know," she shrugs at her three guests. "But how do I make less after all these years?"
She leans in toward him. A relative is holding a career day at school. "I told her you were very busy, but . . . " and pats his arm.
"Yes, Ma," he says.
"Mark was going to be my girl," she confides. "After two boys, this [she grabs his arm] was supposed to be my girl. But he was a hard worker. He wanted to make money when he was young. He was a caddy, and we found out he was carrying two bags at a time. We couldn't stop him."
She brings out his old tax returns. In 1977 he worked at Feeney's Sirloin Pit of Paramus and reported an adjusted gross income of $1334. The next year, he made $3014 at A&S.
"Do you know he still has his first car?"
"A 1983 Nissan 280ZX with T-tops," he interjects, getting younger the longer he sits here.
"I made him pay rent while he lived here. When he got his first apartment and went to buy furniture, I presented him with all of that rent money." She leans in toward him. So-and-so is selling her Saab, she tells him. "I told her I'd talk to you. Could you get her a deal on a Lincoln?"
"Yes, Ma," he says. She pats his arm and heads to the kitchen for desserts. That would be plural. Mrs. Fields made peanut butter cookies. "But I can't vouch for them," she apologizes. "I used Splenda instead of sugar. They don't look nice." She follows with a jam-filled angel food cake covered in whipped cream and fresh strawberries. "I even got diet raspberry jam," she tells her diabetic guest, who wants to take her home.
She pulls out a recent news clipping. "Did you see this?" She shows him a picture of himself over a fairly lengthy story. "Yes, Ma."
Ma smiles. "I kept it for you. Remember the time you upchucked? Praying to the porcelain god. I said to his dad, 'Jerry! He's sick! We've got to get him to the hospital!' Jerry said, 'Sick? He's not sick - he's drunk!' "
Mark is looking about fifteen years old now.
Mrs. Fields doesn't drive a stick, and her son doesn't buy her cars. "No, I pay. But I get the parents' deal. But I do like to test the next one first."
Has she driven the Ford Flex?
"The one that looks like a hearse?" she laughs. "But that's the look of cars now, isn't it?"
"It's too big for her," he says.
"I like the Zephyr. I was always happy when a car gave me good service. You know, remember when you were in California?" She talks with her hand resting on his arm. "They introduced the Mark. I like that name." Yes, this is Mark's mom. And she will have the last word.
"You know, he is always working. The only time he isn't working is when he lays his head down and passes out. He has never been able to reap the rewards of his work. They have always given him something harder to do. I worry; of course I worry. But if anything happens, it's going to happen to the whole country. The press has been nasty. My attitude has always been, if anyone can fix this, he can. Whatever he puts his mind to. You give them a good foundation. You repeat yourself and repeat yourself. It sinks in eventually. And then you never see them."