Job One: A New CEO?

Dec. 21, 2004
Bill Ford is better at being chairman than chief executive, a CEO coach contends.

Tune out the earnest-appearing television commercials. Discount the abrupt dismissal of former CEO Jacques Nasser. Focus instead on temperament and desired results. And William Clay Ford Jr. is better suited to being chairman than CEO of Ford Motor Co., concludes Stephen Payne, founder and president of Leadership Strategies, a Princeton, N.J., firm that coaches CEOs and other senior executives. "This would be a great time for them to split the chairman and CEO roles, and put him back into chairman, and get someone in there [as CEO] that actually understands global competitive marketing and market positioning," says Payne, whose clients have included FMC Corp., Johnson & Johnson and General Motors Corp. "The times call for a CEO that is very clear on the new strategy, on how Ford is going to compete in the long run or in next five to 10 years in the automotive market," Payne emphasizes. "And my reading of Bill Ford is that is not him. He doesn't have the [operating] experience. He doesn't have the cutting kind of edge to him." If not Bill Ford, then whom? Someone like Louis V. Gerstner Jr., the just-retired chairman of IBM Corp., suggests Payne. "When Gerstner moved into IBM from Nabisco, he was a man that was a real focused strategic thinker and a man that was really seriously into execution," he observes. Yet, unlike Gerstner, who moved from food to computers, from one industry to another, Payne believes a new Ford CEO must be an automotive executive. Perhaps, he speculates, the person is within Ford Europe or in a competitor such as DaimlerChrysler AG. Or "possibly" he is Carlos Ghosn, the president and CEO of Japan's Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., who has reinvigorated an automaker that was facing bankruptcy only a few years ago. "The automotive industry is an industry where your track record is very important, your image is very important-much more so than [in] food . . . and probably more so than [in] computing," stresses Payne.

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