Insider: Ford’s Leadership Debacle

There’s a new running joke in Detroit these days that is both humorous and disheartening at the same time.

There’s a new running joke in Detroit these days that is both humorous and disheartening at the same time. It revolves around the world’s second largest auto maker and the continually revolving door at the executive suite. In particular, the joke says that Bill Ford has asked everyone under the sun, including television celebs, to run Ford Motor Co., and it’s getting a lot of laughs. Trouble is, some of the truest comments are made in jest. How did this all get started? A leading business publication published a report saying that Bill Ford himself had tried to woo Dieter Zetsche from DaimlerChrysler just before the mustachioed executive moved to Stuttgart to take the helm. Additionally, Ford was rumored to have conversations with Renault’s Carlos Ghosn, only to be rebuffed. When he was asked whether he was looking to bail, he told reporters a few weeks ago that while he has been talking to other prominent executives about a leadership position at the company, he’s planning to stay put.

You’d think Bill Ford would want to put those rumors to bed since Wall Street and insiders have been complaining for years that Ford has lacked stable management. But no, Ford just let that story continue to fester. Imagine what that does to the morale of those inside the company that toil each and every day, knowing full well that their leader really isn’t in it for the long-haul. Not to mention what the ambiguous comments must mean to analysts and investors, who have to be wondering who will be the next man behind the curtain? Anyone will tell you that leaders don’t leave themselves in limbo. They are vocal about being a part of the team, regardless of whether their name is on the building or not.

Seeing the latest barrage of commercials featuring Mr. Ford talking about the auto maker’s commitment to innovation leaves a false sense of pride for many. After all, if he decides to hand over the reins, what if the next man or woman at the helm says it doesn’t make fiscal sense to be building all of these low-volume, high-cost experiments? Will Mr. Ford demand the new leader stay the course, and if so, will that leader stay? Leaves me wondering just what is happening at Ford these days. The world has been paying an awful lot of attention to Ford’s largest rival, General Motors Corp., but it appears the real problem child, if you will, may be in Dearborn. GM has managed to maintain a stable management team in Rick Wagoner, John Devine, Bob Lutz, Ed Wellburn and Larry Burns, and that speaks volumes to those inside and outside the company. While some would probably like to see Mr. Wagoner’s head on a platter, he’s stepped-up to the plate to take control of the problem areas. Mr. Ford, meanwhile, has just installed another round of managers who will need months to get their hands around the issues facing the company, and they are significant. Stability is needed at Ford and someone needs to find it.