Can New Executives Save Ford?

The president of Ford of Canada is going across the border to help boost Ford’s ailing sales and profits. Considered a manufacturing whiz, Joe Hinrichs, who has only been the head of Ford here for less than a year, is heading to Detroit to take on the position of vice president for Ford’s North American vehicle operations.

 This announcement came after a major shuffle in the top executive positions yesterday.

 “I’m surprised at the timing but things are evolving quickly,” Hinrichs said. “It’s an opportunity and a challenge at the same time.”

 Hinrichs originally hails from Columbus, Ohio and found his way to Ford in 2000 after a 10-year stint at General Motors. He first began his career at Ford as a manager in Sterling Heights, Michigan, but quickly moved up the chain of command. He was the company’s manufacturing director by 2003.

 Some say that he was brought to Canada in an effort to put life back into the company’s slumped fortune and that this recent shuffle is only a further sign of the problems that plague the company.

 At the same time, Anne Stevens has been named as chief operating officer for the same division, which makes her the highest ranking woman in the entire history of Ford.

 Anne Stevens will be overseeing manufacturing and developing across North America, while Hinrichs is responsible for 27 plants and metal stamping factories across the three countries.

 Ford is facing declining demand and too much capacity, which could lead to more plant closures and more layoffs. This has already begun with the closing of an engine plant in Windsor, Ontario. More jobs are expected to be cut over the coming few years.

 Production for Ford in Canada has dropped 45 percent in the first eight months as compared to the same production in the first eight months of 2004.

 Canadian sales have remained level this year thus far, while American market share has fallen for 28 straight months. We saw Ford gain ground when Ford introduced employee pricing this past July, but sales were quick to fall again as soon as the promotion ended.

 It will be interesting to watch how the new executives will try to bring new energy into this sleeping giant — and how quickly they will start to make changes. Ford’s Chief Executive, Bill Ford Jr., has given the go-ahead to the new team to do whatever it takes to “turn around North American automotive operations.” That’s a pretty tall order, and you can bet that PROFIT CONFIDENTIAL will be watching Detroit very closely over the next few months to see what becomes of the current shakeup at Ford.