Alan Mulally has left Dearborn. June 30 was his last day as Ford Motor Company CEO, and Mark Fields (pictured above) has taken over. Mulally will not be an easy act to follow. Brought in by chairman Bill Ford to conclude his own tenure as CEO, the former Boeing executive infused Ford with operational discipline and a transformation of culture that will be rightly compared with the post-World War II era led by the famous “Whiz Kids.”
But Fields is no neophyte. Indeed, he was the architect of the operating plan that Mulally inherited and tweaked to bring Ford back from the brink of disaster. Mulally recognized that the plan was 90 percent there when he arrived in 2006. The Boeing executive’s great skill and legacy has been exerting discipline to keep to the plan and make the company’s C-suite as transparent as possible so as to minimize corporate infighting and ego battles.
Alan Mulally (right), very much flanked by Mark Fields in a succession of key posts, has racked up 19 consecutive quarters of profitability. As Fields drives to work, here are some things he might think about to define his era leading Ford:
1. Maintain Your Own Brand of Passion
Mark Fields has an edge from being born in Brooklyn and raised in New Jersey that is different from the style of Alan Mulally and Bill Ford. Let’s hope he never loses that, or suppresses it. Fields once famously lunged at then-chief financial officer Don LeClair, who Fields thought was killing his product programs with typical nickel-and-dime cost cutting. The two had to be separated by no less than Bill Ford. The passion endeared Fields to Ford and other executives who wearied of LeClair, and the CFO was soon dispatched to early retirement.
2. Don’t Let Up on the Gas Pedal in Europe
The results in Europe are improving. Mark Fields better not take his focus off the continent. Europe is the problem that can eat his quarterly results if he lets it. He needs to pay personal, close attention to it, even after putting some of his best people there. Take nothing for granted. Keep preparing for the worst.
3. Don’t Get Too Far Ahead of the Customer
We get that Ford wants to be a leader in technology, especially telematics. But MyFord Touch has been a debacle. Ford got too far ahead of where the driving consumer wants to be with regard to operating the car. Ford made better splashes at the Consumer Electronics Show, but Chrysler made a better system with UConnect. That won’t do.
4. Keep Marketing in Check
Ford recently faced the terrible embarrassment of having to downgrade the fuel economy ratings of its hybrid cars. The company said it interpreted wind tunnel tests incorrectly. I have another explanation. The marketing department said it wanted to advertise the C-Max hybrid at 47-47-47 mpg. It’s a snappy headline. The engineering and testing departments then felt pressure to goose all the testing to get there. This is bad business. The decrease in fuel economy to 42-37-40 mpg makes the company look like a bunch of rubes. Let the engineers and designers do their jobs to create total integrity in the product, and let the marketing department create the message.
5. Build a New Luxe Brand
This is going to be awkward now that Ford has laid out a strategy to push Lincoln in China. But Lincoln will be Mark Fields’ albatross. It is widely believed that Ford family members, including Bill and Elena Ford, do not want to scuttle Lincoln as they did Mercury. Alan Mulally wanted to get rid of Lincoln along with Jaguar, Volvo, Aston Martin and Land Rover. But internal forces conspired against him. The sensible solution is to kill off Lincoln, and take the money allocated to the brand to start a new luxury nameplate. Toyota did it with Lexus. Ford can do it too. But if the family is unmovable on the matter, there is nothing Fields will be able to do about it. That’s too bad.