Some say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Mark Fields, president-The Americas,Motor Co., adheres to that adage. “We don't want to be accused of being insane,” he quips.
Fields knows the auto maker's future in North America depends on him and his senior leadership team not repeating the same mistakes that have left the storied company on the brink of collapse.
In the midst of its Way Forward North American restructuring plan, Fields says this timeis taking steps it never would have considered in the past.
“We spent a lot of time looking in the mirror and saying, ‘What are the key elements that are absolutely going to change the trajectory of this company?’” Fields says in an interview with Ward's.
“We start with the customer,” he says. “It's fair to say in the past I don't think we've done that. I think we've looked at the constraints around that infrastructure and then had that drive our decisions around product, around volumes and those types of things.”
Not this time, Fields vows. Ford is downsizing capacity in direct proportion to demand for its products, a strategy pulled straight from “Business 101.”
The downsizing is resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs — some 14,000 salaried and 30,000 hourly positions — and will see the closing of 16 North American plants and facilities.
With such a mass exodus of employees, some having worked at the company for decades, the potential for “brain drain” is all too real. To minimize the effect, Fields and his team have set up a communication strategy to reach out directly to employees and keep them informed during these tumultuous times.
In addition, Ford will reveal to employees its product lineup through the end of the decade, Fields says. The process is similar to one he employed while heading upMotor Corp. in Japan.
“There's lots of negativism out there about Ford Motor Co. As part of the senior management team, it's extremely important to not only tell people the challenges we face but the things we are doing right,” he says, adding in some case monetary incentives will be offered to retain key personnel.
While retaining the best and brightest is essential, layers of bureaucracy built up over decades must be eliminated for Ford to compete against its leaner, more efficient rivals, officials say.
Reducing headcount not only applies to mid-level salaried and hourly workers but also the so-called untouchable management ranks.
In recent months Ford has experienced a steady exodus of high-ranking executives, including Steve Hamp, vice president and chief of staff; A.J. Wagner, president-Ford Motor Credit Co.; Anne Stevens, executive vice president and chief operating officer-The Americas; and David Szczupak, group vice president, manufacturing-The Americas.
Fields says Ford can overcome the thinning of its executive ranks due to the “depth of the folks we have in this organization.
“Have we lost talent? Yes, we have,” he says. “But the good news is we have a large reservoir of talent. We have a very motivated team that's focused on, ‘How do we improve the position of the company?’”
To ensure the auto maker's survival, CEO and Ford scion Bill Ford handed over his post to Alan Mulally Sept. 5.
Mulally, a former Boeing Co. executive, is an automotive neophyte. But that doesn't matter, Fields says, adding Mulally brings fresh ideas and a new perspective to the deeply rooted Ford culture.
Fields shoots down the notion Ford is preparing a third, Mulally-inspired, version of its Way Forward plan.
“Don't hold your breath for Way Forward 3,” he says. “We accelerated Way Forward in September. It has the right elements in it.”
Fields also is keeping an eye on Washington and a Democrat-controlled Congress.
When asked what he expects from the new policy makers, Fields says his primary concern is ensuring Ford's voice is heard.
Fields identifies energy and fair trade policies as key issues for Ford and the domestic auto industry in general.
Fields also says he would like more government participation in the creation of vehicles that run on alternative fuels, such as E85 ethanol and hydrogen, as well as an infrastructure to support them.
But what Ford desperately needs right now is product. The auto maker has been criticized most for taking too long to freshen existing vehicles and bring new ones to market.
Fields and Mulally realize the importance of new product, which is why a large percentage of Ford's annual expenditures will be diverted toward new-model creation.
Some segments, however, have seen competition heat up to the point where they are no longer profitable for Ford. For instance, the auto maker will exit the minivan sector next year. “For the most part, we'll continue to have a broad range of products,” Fields says.