Special Coverage

Management Briefing Seminars

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Ford Motor Co.’s manufacturing chief Joseph Hinrichs says it’s time for change in the auto industry, and to truly change, fear must be overcome.

Speaking at the Management Briefing Seminars here, Hinrichs says Ford is doing just that as it attempts to turn around its struggling North American operations.

“The pace of change happening in our industry is forcing us to change in our thinking and tactics,” he says. “Much of this change is painful, but change is an opportunity for those who have the courage and competitive spirit to drive it.”

Hinrichs credits the 37,000 workers that have left the auto maker since it implemented its Way Forward restructuring strategy last year for facing their fears and making choices. Many of them have gone on to work for suppliers, while 40% of departing hourly workers opted to go back to school and learn a new trade, he says.

The challenge now is for Ford to return to profitability with a leaner workforce, Hinrichs says.

“We’re turning a challenge of running our operations with a smaller workforce into an opportunity to improve our overall cost competitiveness. These are the kinds of things that are possible when we have the courage to look at things differently and are willing to change.

“Imagine what we could accomplish if we were indeed fearless?”

During the launch of the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX cross/utility vehicles last winter, the auto maker was faced with a choice – do what was right for the product and the customer – even if it meant delaying the launch – or do things the way they’ve always been done.

“When it came time to open the gates, we knew that the even though the product was ready, the process wasn’t quite there yet,” Hinrich says.

“We knew we would take hits from the media, and they certainly didn’t disappoint us. But we knew what we had to do. We had to delay the launch of one of the most eagerly anticipated vehicles in our history when all eyes were upon us. We did what was right for our customers.”

Hinrichs says he learned how to make tough choices while working as a plant manager at General Motors Corp.’s Fredricksburg, VA, components plant in 1996.

A strike at a GM components plant threatened the plant’s future, he says. But rather than follow standard procedure and lay off workers until the strike was ended, Hinrichs decided to use the time to retrain employees and forge a close-knit team.

“The strike lasted 17 days, and in that time we were able to change the way work was done,” he says. “Essentially, we became one team.

“When the strike ended and the lines were back up and running, we were more efficient,” Hinrichs adds. “We took a negative and turned it into a positive and opened the door for lasting change. All because we decided to do things differently, without fear.”

bpope@wardsauto.com