While General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG have rolled out the heavy hitters to speak at the 2001 Management Briefing Seminars, Ford Motor Co.’s top brass have been conspicuously absent from the Traverse City, MI, conference.

But on Thursday, new Ford initiate Karen C. Francis was out there, Ford’s only representative for the more weighty Wednesday-Friday seminars.

One might say that it hasn’t exactly been Ford Motor Co.’s year. But Ms. Francis, in her new post as President and Chief Executive of e-business arm Ford ConsumerConnect, faced the crowd and talked about what Ford is doing well right now: adapting to the electronic age.

Ms. Francis, on the job only since April, stepped up to bat to define Ford’s multi-faceted e-commerce and e-business initiatives. And the Ford-Firestone scandal only came up once – as an example of how well Ford’s new call centers adapted to handle the influx of consumer calls.

On Ford’s e-strategy, Ms. Francis says imposing traditional business practices on the new economy is necessary for a Fortune 500 company to be able to function in the electronic age, especially after the last year.

“First, the aspirations and expectations that were talked about just one year ago have been doused by more realistic timeframes for return on investment,” Ms. Francis says. “Next, the seemingly endless availability of capital has dried up.”

Ms. Francis should know. Stepping into Ford at its low point may be old hat in light of her last job, where she spent the last year playing witness to the dot-com carnage as managing director of the Internet Capital Group, a venture capital company for the B2B e-commerce industry. (Before that, she was general manager of the soon-to-be defunct Oldsmobile division.)

A bright spot, her year outside the automotive industry on the west coast Internet scene has given her special insight to help her in her new post. “I never would have known the flexibility that proper collaboration would allow,” she says. One of Ford’s strategies e-business strategies for next year will be to continue to seek out partners for e-oriented collaborations. But in the next year, Ford’s e-business challenge will center around training and implementation of its new practices, she says.

Says Ms. Francis: “Technology’s great, but if the people don’t understand it, it’s not great.” o