US Outlook: It’s a hard act to follow but Ford’s ‘chosen one’ inherits a job where dressing-room dissent has been vanquished

Don’t mention the names Ferguson or Moyes to Mark Fields, the chosen one who is set to succeed Ford Motor Company’s chief executive, Alan Mulally.

How do you follow one of the biggest turnaround acts in American corporate history? Mr Mulally was named recently by Fortune magazine as the world’s third-greatest leader, behind Pope Francis and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

To be fair, Mr Fields has a better chance at Ford than David Moyes ever did at Old Trafford succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson as manager of Manchester United football club. That’s because Mr Fields, 58, is an insider at Ford of a quarter of a century’s standing and he has been groomed for the chief executive’s role over several years. He knows the Ford business inside out – for good and for bad. He has already run big chunks of the car giant. Still, though, his task is daunting.

Mr Mulally is a towering figure on the American corporate scene. He was brought in from Boeing in late 2006 when Ford was heading fast towards its darkest hour, trying to avoid the bankruptcy that befell its competitors General Motors and Chrysler. Barely through the door, Mr Mulally quickly agreed to mortgage some of Ford’s most important assets and signed off on a $23.5bn (£14bn) loan with the company’s banks just before the financial world started to collapse – a loan that meant Ford did not have to ask the taxpayer to bail it out.

He slashed his workforce almost in half, and then dismantled and sold off much of Ford’s so-called “premier automotive group”, which included Jaguar, Volvo, Land Rover and Aston Martin. The company was now able to focus on its own branded cars.

These are the quick, ruthless, decisive and smart decisions that investors expect from a chief executive. Many, however, believe that Mr Mulally’s biggest achievement at Ford was to change its very culture.

He tore down the competing silos within the company, laid siege to the internal fiefdoms that fought against each other and introduced – and enforced – the New Age-sounding mantra of “One Ford”. This was more than a slogan; it became the belief system that turned the company around.

The results over most of Mr Mulally’s tenure have been astounding. After losing about $30bn between 2006 and 2008, Ford earned roughly $42bn over the next five years. Its share price, which fell as low as $1.43 in 2008, traded this week at around $16.

Even in its figures issued last night - which showed quarterly profits falling due to the tough US market - he was able to talk of it being a “solid quarter” ahead of “the most aggressive product launch schedule in its history”. The company is launching a record 23 new vehicles globally in 2014. Overall revenue for the first quarter rose slightly to $35.9bn, and it sold 1.6m vehicles - a rise of 6%.

What next for Mr Mulally? It is highly unlikely that, as a youthful 68, he will click his heels three times and return to his native Kansas. He was a contender for the chief executive’s job at Microsoft, apparently to the chagrin of the Ford board members. He will be in big demand. There is speculation that he could end up in a senior role at Google, elsewhere in Silicon Valley, or in an even bigger job in corporate America.

For his part, Mr Fields will have to make sure that the reforms of his predecessor stay in place and that Ford does not return to its old ways of division and backbiting. He does not hide from problems. When Mr Mulally instituted weekly meetings at Ford, he was one of the few senior managers brave enough to raise his hand when he had problems to address. For Mr Mulally, it marked him out from the rest.

Mr Fields will have to address problems with some of Ford’s in-car electronics and see through Mr Mulally’s bold move to make the new version of the F-150 pickup truck, the bestselling light vehicle in America, mostly from aluminium.

For the Ford family, a smooth transition is paramount. The company’s executive chairman, Bill Ford, great-grandson of the founder, Henry Ford, said last week: “One of the things that Alan and I have talked about, really since he hired in, is how important it is for a great CEO to also have a great transition.

He continued: “A lot of great CEOs leave and then there’s chaos behind them … and Alan and I have talked about that – the importance of the final act of a great CEO is having a great transition.”

Those words are ringing true right now at Old Trafford.

Hubris and nemesis for the emperors of Silicon Valley

 Wall Street’s most reckless bankers were rightly vilified for their greed, delusion and downright hubris following the financial crisis in 2008. Now it is the turn of Silicon Valley’s leading figures to have their morals and business practices exposed with the disinfectant of daylight. It is not a pretty sight.

There are at least two serious areas of concern with some of them. The first is their alleged collusion to stop their employees moving to rival companies for better money and opportunities. The second is their poor corporate governance, which shows a smug disregard for shareholders and makes some of them look like Roman emperors.

Consider first the size of the egos that it takes to make sure the chosen ones themselves are free to move around the boardrooms of technology’s top companies and make countless millions of dollars – while at the same time allegedly preventing talented employees from exercising their basic human right to jump ship.

The reported $324m payment by Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe Systems to settle a lawsuit that alleged they conspired not to poach staff from each other, and to suppress pay levels for thousands of tech workers, should cause deep concern in a country that claims to be a meritocracy where the talented and the hardworking can achieve anything.  In Silicon Valley, apparently, only the chosen ones and the chieftains are truly free.

Then consider the dual classes of shares at some of Silicon Valley’s most storied companies – ones that give founders much greater voting rights than other shareholders. The company founders claim that these voting rights help to thwart the opportunistic and short-term demands of activist shareholders. There may be some truth in that, but these dual share classes also entrench further the positions of the Valley’s already haughty elite.

This club likes to take its companies “public” by selling some shares to get the public’s money – but then it likes, in effect, to keep the companies privately run. And regulators let them get away with it. Silicon Valley enjoys playing by its own set of rules. It might just be a matter of time, however, before public shareholders revolt against the overlords.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine