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Bill Ford's Turnaround Plan

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DETROIT -- When Ford Motor Co.'s board of directors reviews a do-or-die turnaround plan on Dec. 7 and 8, that proposal will bear the fingerprints of "Mark and Anne."

It's going to be drastic. Ford is expected to close several assembly plants and eliminate thousands of jobs. And when that plan is unveiled in January, its creators -- Mark Fields and Anne Stevens -- will be asked to enforce it.

Ford's North American business is in crisis, says CEO Bill Ford, and it's up to Fields and Stevens to turn it around. Fields is president of the Americas, while Stevens is the new COO of the Americas.

Last week, in a wide-ranging interview in Dearborn, Mich., with Automotive News, Bill Ford referred to the pair over and over again, almost as a single word.

"Mark and Anne really do have the freedom to come up with a plan that is different and is bold," Bill Ford said. "And we're not going to put any parameters around them."

Ever since Bill Ford designated Fields and Stevens as his chief troubleshooters, another key executive -- company President Jim Padilla -- has faded into the background.

Last week, Bill Ford downplayed Padilla's low profile. He said Padilla is overseeing international operations while Fields and Stevens guide Ford's North American turnaround.

Fair game

So far this year, Ford Motor's North American automotive operations have lost $1.4 billion before taxes.

As Fields and Stevens complete their cost-cutting proposal, nothing is off the table. For example, sources say Ford's Atlanta assembly plant -- a plant that had been considered safe, with plans for renovations and new products -- is now at risk.

The turnaround plan goes to Ford's board of directors at its Dec. 7-8 meeting. Ford Motor could:

>> Close four assembly plants. Ford Motor uses only 75 percent of its available production capacity. Sources say the company could close four assembly plants plus some powertrain or stamping plants.

>> Trim white-collar jobs. "We want to make sure this is not all just done on the backs of a certain level of the company," Bill Ford said. Ford Motor already is cutting 2,750 jobs this year from its 35,000-strong North American salaried automotive ranks. Sources say Ford Motor eventually could eliminate as much as 30 percent of those white-collar jobs.

>> Reduce the number of corporate officers. Ford Motor now has 54 officers.

Defining the plan is only the first step for Fields and Stevens. More difficult will be carrying out the plan while stabilizing market share and completing new models.

Bottom line: Ford Motor must determine how to make more money on cars as SUV sales plunge.

Fields has a strong marketing background after stints leading Mazda, Premier Automotive Group and Ford of Europe. He is expected to tackle branding and sales.

Tough task

That's a thorny assignment; since 2002, the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands have lost a collective 4 percentage points of U.S. market share. And those brands are still in trouble.

Last month, sales for the domestic brands plunged 26.1 percent, and November is shaping up as another tough month. In the first two weeks of November, the Power Information Network estimates that Ford Motor's retail sales fell 30 percent.

Stevens is an engineer by training who has managed all of Ford's North American assembly plants. She now oversees manufacturing, purchasing and product development.

Bill Ford has said products slated for the next couple years are largely locked in. But Fields and Stevens are studying whether the long-term product plan meets the shifting needs of the marketplace.

Said Bill Ford: "They're a very interesting team, Mark and Anne, because they have completely different strengths and completely different backgrounds. They work very well together. That's why I keep saying, 'Mark and Anne' -- they are working seamlessly together."

Link: http://www.autoweek.com/news.cms?newsId=103636
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