As Mark Fields takes over as CEO of Ford, it’s important to examine his character and experience to see if he truly is the best person to take over the company. Ford is one of the most important companies in the world, it currently employs over 180,000 people and operates 65 plants worldwide. As the HR executives told us at Ford, Fields is looking to continue to carry out Mulally’s, “One Ford Plan.” However, is Fields too different of an executive to be the same unifying force at Ford that Mulally was?
Fields has extensive knowledge of the car industry, as well as a lot of experience in high pressure positions. In 2005 as the head of operations in North America, Fields led Ford through the financial crisis as well as leading the implementation of Alan Mulally’s restructuring of the company. Prior to being head of operations in North America, Mr. Fields held prestigious positions such as the President of Ford affiliate Mazda, the head of Ford’s operations in Europe, and he also ran all of Ford’s luxury car divisions such as Jaguar, Volvo, and Land Rover. Fields is credited with leading the charge amongst Ford executives of buying into Mulally’s new business strategies such as being vocal in board meetings. Fields had no problem with abandoning old traditions at Ford. He famously said, “Edge is red,” meaning that the brand new Ford Edge SUV’s production was off track for the planned launch date. In the pre-Mulally era no Ford executives ever criticized any products, they would instead sweep problems under the rug and deal with them when they had to. Fields’ actions sent ripples throughout the company, and gained high praise from Mulally. His vocalness caused Ford employees to begin to buy into Mulally’s “One Ford Plan.”
However, Fields is also very aggressive and a little rough around the edges. He is famous for telling employees that they should be worried about their pensions. He thought holding employees’ pensions over their heads was a great way to get workers motivated. He is also infamous for his brashness with the UAW as well as criticizing Bill Ford’s restructuring plan in 2002 as “erring on the side of being a bit too polite.” Fields also is a notorious downsizer, specifically in North America. He has closed 16 plants and cut more than 39,000 employees throughout North America. Although the downsizing of North American operations may have been what was best for Ford to avoid bankruptcy, Fields also had no problem abusing his executive perks. He tallied $517,560 of airplane costs in the company private jet throughout 2007. As a CEO who had a salary of $5.6 million, his abuse of the private jet seemed a little excessive considering he was cutting thousands of jobs throughout the U.S.
Some may praise Fields for being a vocal leader, savvy businessman, and experienced executive. He definitely has the qualifications to be a great CEO at Ford. However, Fields can also be viewed as overly aggressive and selfish and maybe even too willing to abandon routine. Nonetheless, Fields is a very different personality then Mulally and it will be interesting to see his impact on Ford going forward.