Ford Death Watch 10: Wielding the Culture Club

ford death watch 10 wielding the culture club

This morning, I met with a management consultant who works for The Big Two Point Five. Back before the recent “unpleasantness,” Ford’s top brass engaged the consultant to tackle a marketing issue crucial to FoMoCo’s future. Department heads assembled. Despite overlapping fiefdoms and wildly different ideas for progress, the execs hammered out an innovative four-point strategic plan. Consensus was achieved. And then… nothing. Not one of the points was ever implemented. “These guys are scared to death of change,” he sighed. “Ford’s culture is always working against them.”

Although pundits recognize FoMoCo’s corporate culture as a bad, bad thing, they fail to identify the Blue Oval’s underlying take-no-chances, pass-the-buck, cover-your-ass management philosophy as the root of all evil. Reverse engineer all the decisions that lead to the Ford Focus’ interior, or the existence of the Freestar, or the plan to market a six-cylinder Lincoln crossover, or the general lack of killer cars, and it’s clear that the company’s corporate culture is slow, fat, lazy and stupid.

At the moment, Ford’s busy trimming the fat from the equation. At the top of the food chain, several of The Blue Oval’s biggest big shots are floating out the door on their golden parachutes: Steve Hamp, Chief of Staff; A J Wagner, Vice President of Ford Motor Credit Company; Dave Szczupak, Group Vice President; and Anne “Push Push Hug” Stevens, COO of the Americas. Upon her resignation, the last executive on the list left a love letter with The Detroit Free Press indicating the full extent of the ossification within FoMoCo: “The company has too many layers, the company is too bureaucratic, and it takes too long to get things done."

Note: this comment comes from the woman ranked number 22 on Fortune magazine's list of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” and number 41 on Motor Trend’s “Power List” of the industry’s top 50 execs. Meanwhile, further down the food chain, Ford is slicing 14k white collar workers from its North American payroll. That’s one-third of FoMoCo’s entire white collar staff. At the end of this process, Nicole Richie will have more fat than Ford’s management structure– leaving them with lazy, slow and stupid.

The Machiavellians amongst you might disagree, imagining the bloody hand of freshly-minted Ford CEO Alan Mulally behind all this, taking comfort in the carnage, predicting that a new, more market responsive corporate regime will follow. It’s certainly true that the best way to “cure” a diseased corporate culture is to knife as many slackers/potential enemies as possible, erring on the side of excess. But one need only consider the timing of the cuts and look at the top of the pyramid to conclude that it’s business as usual down in Dearborn.

The latest round of white collar cuts was announced prior to Alan Mulally’s arrival. That’s just plain dumb; even if Mulally didn’t swing the axe, he should have at least looked as if he was swinging the axe. Does the executive who appointed Ford's thirty-five million dollar man care? Obviously not. And what does that tell you about Billy Ford? My take: Bad Billy’s inability to walk away from the family firm he’s been running into the ground makes him part of the problem, not the solution. The fact that Baby Face Mark Fields– original architect of The Way Fordward and twenty-minute heir apparent– is still wandering the corridors of power is equally troubling.

All of which raises the single most important question for Ford’s future: who’s in charge? I Don’t Know is on his second executive savior and third way forward. Someone’s at FoMoCo’s got to sort out who does what first. The second they figure that out, the country’s third largest automaker can stop making so many product decisions that come straight from left field. Then they’d have a chance to sort out their corporate culture and start building desirable products in a timely fashion. Which is why Detroit's chattering class is waiting for Alan Mulally to step up to the plate and knock someone's head off.

He better. Not to put too fine a point on it, the only way to motivate people is fear and greed. God knows Ford’s tried greed. For decades, they’ve paid off the unions. For decades, executives have failed upwards. For decades, the top dogs have enjoyed gold-plated pay packages and plenty o’ perks– regardless of their performance or lack thereof. Greed’s done. It’s time for fear. It’s time for a ruthless leader to step forward who’s ready, willing and able to excise the weak-willed in his ranks. When you hear Billy Ford mumble the words “Et tu, Brute?” on his way to a comfortable retirement in, say, the Maldives, THEN you will know that Ford is truly ready to move forward.

Join the conversation
2 of 42 comments
  • G48150 G48150 on Oct 01, 2006

    Methinks pharazon works in the Ford HR department, his Type A personality shines right through!!!

  • Allegro con moto-car Allegro con moto-car on Oct 01, 2006

    I can say anecdotally that Ford has failed many customers many times. There is the case of a co-worker and good friend of mine who lives in Knoxville, TN. I went to visit him years ago and the three Toyota Camrys parked around his house caught my eye immediately. I joked out loud that his is the Toyota Camry family. His wife said they used to be the Ford Taurus family, but they got sick and tired of rebuilding their Taurus' one component at a time as everything in these cars failed like clockwork. He pointed out there are actually four Camrys in the family, their son was not at home at the time. Then there is another co-worker friend of mine who lives in Chattanooga, TN. He bought a new Ford that had a defective brake master cylinder; the pedal would sink to the floor. The Ford dealer told him "they are all like that." He had to beg the Lincoln-Mercury dealer with a desperate "I haul my family around in this unsafe new Ford" plea to get a warranty replacement from Lincoln-Mercury, which they very graciously did for him. And this is a guy who used to talk all the time about FORD like it was the best car company on Earth. What is most telling about what other people are saying is what they are not saying. I do not hear similar stories being told to me by Toyota and Honda owners. What I hear from the T & H crowd is how much better they like their cars over Fords and GMs. I have never heard a Ford owner tell me how much better they like their Ford over their former T or H. I am not saying it never happens, I'm just saying nobody has told me this. (I live in a town where many brands of cars are sold, but here is no T or H dealer here. The T & H crowd have to go out of their way to purchase their vehicles.) There is a reason for this shift in market share from FORD to Asian brands. This is not because of "perceived" better value. It is because of actual better value.

  • Bobbysirhan Sometimes it seems like GM has accepted that the customers they still have are never going to come to their senses and that there aren't any new dupes on the horizon, so they might as well milk their existing cows harder.
  • Buickman how about LowIQ?
  • Gemcitytm Corey: As a native SW Ohioan, Powel Crosley, Jr. has always been an object of fascination for me. While you're correct that he wanted most of all to build cars, the story of the company he created with his brother Lewis, The Crosley Corporation, is totally fascinating. In the early 20's, Crosley was the nation's leading manufacturer of radio receivers. In the 1930's, working from an idea brought to him by one of his engineers, Crosley pioneered the first refrigerator with shelves in the door (called, of course, the "Shelvador"). He was the first to sell modular steel kitchen cabinets (made for him by Auburn in Connersville). He brought out the "IcyBall" which was a non-electric refrigerator. He also pioneered in radio broadcasting with WLW Radio in Cincinnati (wags said the calls stood for either "Whole Lotta Watts" or "World's Lowest Wages"). WLW was one of the first 50,000 watt AM stations and in 1934, began transmitting with 500,000 watts - the most powerful station in the world, which Mr. Crosley dubbed "The Nation's Station". Crosley was early into TV as well. The reason the Crosley operation died was because Mr. Crosley sold the company in 1945 to the AVCO Corporation, which had no idea how to market consumer goods. Crosley radios and TVs were always built "to a price" and the price was low. But AVCO made the products too cheaply and their styling was a bit off the wall in some cases. The major parts of the Crosley empire died in 1957 when AVCO pulled the plug. For the full story of Crosley, read "Crosley: Two Brothers and a Business Empire That Transformed the Nation" by Rutsy McClure (a grandson of Lewis Crosley), David Stern and Michael A. Banks, Cincinnati: Clerisy Press, ISBN-13: 978-1-57860-291-9.
  • AndyinMA Well, will they actually make any? Wranglers appear to be black only at this point, but I do admit to seeing a few Gladiators in other colors. A few.
  • Garrett The only way to send a message is to pull out of the transaction when the fee is disclosed unless the dealer pays for it...or just walk out regardless.If this happens enough, eventually someone will get the message.