Was Mark Fields the Right Choice for Ford?

Rich, Harvard educated, good looking, and at times pompous and cocky; that’s how I would describe new Ford CEO Mark Fields. Oh, and he’s very, very talented.

Originally, Fields got his start at Ford way back in 1989 at the ripe age of 28. Right away, it was apparent that he had the unique blend of youth and talent that every major corporation craves. In many ways, the young Mark Fields was like Charlie Sheen’s Bud Fox character in Wall Street. Everyone knew that he had all the talent in the world, but he was a little too attracted to the dark side. The only question was: could he pull it all together?

At times, it seemed like he couldn’t. Too often early in his career, Fields gravitated the wrong way, forcing people to question his character. Forbes writer Joann Muller says, “I admit I had my doubts about Mark Fields…I wasn’t the only one. For years, people both inside and outside the automaker wondered whether the fast-rising executive, with his Harvard MBA and tailored suits, wasn’t just a slick operator punching his ticket on the way up the management ladder.”

fields2There were moments where it seemed that Fields was happy enough getting his rocks off, spending money wildly and forgetting the responsibilities he had to his company and his workers. One example of this came in 2006 when a Detroit TV station revealed that Fields was using Ford’s private jets to fly to his Florida home, while asking his employees to make financial sacrifices to help keep the company afloat. The private flights were costing $15,000 per weekend!!

“I’m tapped out Marv. American Express’ got a hit lookin’ for me,” Bud Fox says at one point in Wall Street. This might as well of been Mark Fields.

But while he was spending wildly, Fields was also moving Ford in a positive direction, making him indispensable to the company. He had turned around Mazda (at the time, partially owned by Ford), breaking down Mazda’s corporate bureaucracy while cutting back on suppliers, factories, and jobs. He also changed the Mazda product line-up with the popular and critically acclaimed Mazda 3 and Mazda 6 vehicles. The company was once again booming.

The split agenda between work and selfishness, however, was still a problem. It became apparent that Fields needed a mentor. If the mentor turned out to be Gordon Gecko, though, Fields may have went bad. Fortunately, Ford gave him Alan Mulally.

mulallyIn 2006, Mulally was named Ford’s CEO, and since that time, he has gone on to be regarded as one of America’s most successful CEOs. Many have even credited him for saving Ford. From day one, Mulally garnered Fields’ respect and taught the younger man how to run a business. Over the years, Fields worked as Mulally’s second hand man as the two blended together parts of Fields’ “Way Forward” plan (undeniably ingenious) and Mulally’s “One Ford” plan. The result was success.

Bill Saporito of Time Magazine says, “[Ford] set out to simplify the company, lower costs, and produce better cars around the world. Focusing on global brands such as Fiesta, Fusion and Focus, the idea was produce distinctive cars using a fewer number of platforms than in the past. And building say, a Fusion, the same way around the world would mean lower parts costs and better overall quality.”

The plan brought Ford back from the brink of bankruptcy, placing them back as an American powerhouse. Now, for 2014 alone, Ford is expecting a 7 to 8 billion dollar profit. The time also served as a great learning experience for Fields.

mul

Bill Ford, the executive chairman and great grandson of Henry Ford, says, “To have Mark work with Alan over the last eight years, I think has been really great for our entire team. I feel great about the fact the he, in my opinion, is going to be another great CEO.”

Currently, there is no denying that the future is bright for Ford, but Fields does still have some challenges. The company is losing money in the huge markets of Europe, South America, and Russia.

In an interview with Joann Muller, Fields said, “I’ve gotten better as involving everybody, and learning to ask the right questions, never with the intent of thinking you have all the right answers.”

At 53 years old, it seems that Fields is now up for the challenge. Part of this is because he’s no longer the rich, foolish Bud Fox character. Part of it is because he didn’t become Gordon Gecko, either. Maybe, we should thank Alan Mulally for that.

 

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