The problems at Ford

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You can count on the fingers of a mitten the number of major car companies that are still British owned. Yet it takes a Brit to sort out the problems at Ford, the second-largest car company in the world.

Last week Ford's chief operating officer, the British-born Sir Nick Scheele, announced the long-awaited restructuring of the US car giant, together with the loss of 35,000 jobs. For around two years he has worked on turning round the troubled Ford Europe. But he was catapulted into the hot seat last October when former chief executive Jac Nasser, an Australian, was ousted by Bill Clay Ford, the great grandson of the founder, after a series of calamities at the company.

The company has had a dreadful time since the last British boss, Lord Trotman, left at the start of 1999. The Ford Explorer, the Jeep rival, was responsible for many of the woes. Tyres on the SUV were found to be defective, and were said to have led to hundreds of accidents on US roads. Ford had to spend billions replacing the tyres and settling lawsuits from customers. The problems led to an acrimonious public spat with the tyre-maker Bridgestone/Firestone, and Ford ending their century-old relationship.

Then along came 11 September, which pushed the US into deeper recession. As a result Ford is heading towards a massive loss for the year. For the first three-quarters of this year it has reported a loss of $385m (£266m), against a profit of $2.4bn in the corresponding period in 2000.

It is not the first time the company has been in such a financial predicament. In 1992, it was reporting losses of $7.4bn. Then Lord Trotman was brought in, and he presided over a golden era for the company when the share price rose from around $10 to a high of $35 just after he left. But now the shares are back down to around $15, and Ford has to go through disruptions like selling off non-core assets, discontinuing models and closing down manufacturing plants, as well as the job cuts.

Both Lord Trotman and Sir Nick spent the best part of their lives at the company, starting as young trainees and working their way up. Hopefully the recent redundancies won't include too many British employees, as it seems this country is a breeding ground for turnaround champions at Ford.