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Industryweek 21781 Mark Fields

Ford CEO Fields to Step Down, Replaced with Former Steelcase CEO

May 22, 2017
The change comes after an eventful two weeks where Ford’s stock price took a dive and the company announced a 10% job cut of its salaried workers in the United States and Asia Pacific.

Ford Motor Co. on Monday announced it is replacing CEO Mark Fields with manufacturing industry veteran Jim Hackett, former CEO of Steelcase. Hackett most recently led Ford Smart Mobility, and has served on Ford’s board from 2013 to 2016.

Hackett will have three priorities at Ford: Sharpening operational execution, modernizing Ford’s present business and transforming the company for the future.

Fields, 56, will retire from Ford, where he has spent the past 28 years, the announcement said.

The change comes after an eventful two weeks where Ford’s stock price took a dive and the company announced a 10% job cut of its salaried workers in the United States and Asia Pacific.

Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford, said in a statement that Hackett “is the right CEO to lead Ford during this transformative period for the auto industry and the broader mobility space.” He added that Fields’ “strong leadership was critical to our North American restructuring, our turnaround at the end of the last decade, and our record profits in the past two years.”

Charlie Smith, an analyst and chief investment officer of Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh, said that the change “smacks of short-termism that’s a function of the poor performance of the stock. And that’s unfortunate.”

“The CEO had been there since late 2013, early 2014, so to me a three-year tenure in that position, really the guy should have been just barely getting started in whatever agenda he might have been trying to enact,” he said.

Ford also announced more leadership changes. Jim Farley has been promoted to executive vice president and president, global markets. Joe Hinrichs has been promoted to executive vice president and president, global operations. And Marcy Klevorn is promoted executive vice president and president, mobility. Mark Turby will replace a retiring Ray Day as vice president of communications. 

Ian Beavis, chief strategy officer at automotive consulting firm AMCI, said that the replacing of communications leadership is especially telling. Fields, he said, had good vision, leading Ford in investments in mobility services and autonomous technology while efficiently churning out the pickup trucks and SUVs that U.S. buyers are still hungry for, but had trouble communicating it. "Clearly there was a gap between how the company was actually performing in reality and the vision," Beavis said "The CEO's going to take the hit for that every time."

Fields had big shoes to fill: His predecessor, Alan Mulally, was venerated for turning Ford around during the auto crisis of the Great Recession. "What Alan Mulally did probably better than any other person on the planet was communicate a clear vision and then operationalize it," said Beavis. "And make sure people really understood it. That was something Mark was not able to do internally as well as externally."

Hackett served as CEO of Steelcase for nearly two decades, during which time he transformed the company from traditional furniture manufacturer to a leaner (with substantial job cuts), more progressive (with an emphasis on environmental sustainability in manufacturing) advocate of the open office work environment. "I think he's a very interesting choice," said Beavis. "He's actually done the job of transforming an old-guard company. He's got the support of the board and he's actually done what they're try to do."

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