The Dog Days of August are upon us, but I don't see many tails wagging at theMotor Co. Especially not in President and Chief Executive Jacques Nasser's office on the 12th floor of Ford's World Headquarters.
Rumors, gossip, “sources” and, it seems, anyone with an opinion have Mr. Nasser in deep trouble, reflecting's cascading problems. Yes, the buck stops at his desk. But based on his demonstrated capabilities — the attributes that got him to the top — I can't see him being shown the door.
Ford family history is filled with execs who displeased those with their “name on the building,” as Henry Ford II famously, or perhaps mythically, put it. The most celebrated was HF II's firing of President Lee A. Iacocca 23 years ago, but almost from the company's beginnings in 1908 there have been high-ranking types who didn't, or couldn't, win and keep favor with the Fords. And so it was bye-bye Dearborn.
Mr. Nasser's situation is considerably different, however. For one thing, Chairman William Clay Ford Jr. has shown little inclination toward running the company on a day-to-day, operating basis like his Uncle HF II and his great-grandfather HF I did. And he's the only Ford, at least for the foreseeable future, likely to carry that mantle. He's still a powerful force, of course, but his title is non-executive chairman.
The Ford family controls 40% of the company's stock, and his father, William Clay Ford Sr., is the biggest single stockholder within the family's ranks. This naturally gives them enormous clout, but they also have to keep an eye on Wall Street, where Ford's shares — despite efforts to boost their value — have remained in the doldrums for years.
Then there are all of those potentially cash-draining lawsuits aimed at Ford and Firestone over faulty tires and, at Ford more specifically, over Explorer sport/utility rollovers. Firing Mr. Nasser could be construed as a tacit admission that Ford is to blame for the tire/Explorer mess, turning the winds of litigation into a hurricane, more severely damaging Ford's already shaky defense on both scores.
Still, since Mr. Nasser ascended to the presidency in January 1999, FoMoCo at times has seemed to be star-crossed. It's like a hop-scotching forest fire; put one out and it immediately rekindles elsewhere. The tire fiasco, poor ratings in quality surveys, embarrassing recalls, nagging problems in Europe, a spate of discrimination suits filed by older and white male employees — a cornucopia of vexing issues that not even the hardened Mr. Nasser can find easy to cope with.
But look around you at the problem-plagued companies that have staged major comebacks:Corp., before the merger with DaimlerBenz AG and now once again mounting a comeback; Motor Co. Ltd., destined for the dumper before Renault SA and the emissary it sent to save Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, took control; Jaguar before Ford took over; Volkswagen AG before it brought on a string of smart-looking vehicles; Motor Co. Ltd., not long ago on the brink of disaster and now catching on strongly in the U.S., and so on.
Only 53, Mr. Nasser still has the energy, enthusiasm, smarts and troops — recently redeployed — to turn around Ford's fortunes. He once told me he loves tough challenges, and that although he doesn't relish taking harsh actions, sometimes that's necessary for the long-term good.
Well, Jac, roll up your sleeves.