Fields Defends Ford's Honor in Tense Shareholders Meeting

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

As anticipated, Ford CEO Mark Fields was grilled today over his plans to improve the company’s waning fortunes by board members who had scheduled extra time to question him.

Hot topics at the annual meeting centered on why profits are falling, what is Ford doing about the market shift toward SUVs, and how the company’s colossal investments into technology are affecting its present-day financial situation. Ford has poured billions into self-driving vehicles and ride-sharing platforms as its traditional car business loses some ground to General Motors in a slowing U.S. market. Fields spearheaded Ford’s rebranding as a mobility company, but many have suggested this future-focus isn’t healthy for the brand.

Fields stuck to his guns, emphasizing that Ford was heading “aggressively but also prudently” into “the biggest strategic shift in the history of our company.”

That didn’t appease major shareholders, however. After posting a none-too-shabby pretax profit of $10.4 billion in 2016, the automaker anticipates a less impressive $9 billion for 2017 — which it admits is largely due to massive investments in technology.

The company’s stock price has also trended downward since July of 2014, while General Motors’ has remained much more stable. But the assumption was that Ford’s emerging identity as a tech-first mobility brand would energize shares à la Tesla Motors — which holds a higher market value, despite not turning a steady profit.

This has resulted in plenty of bent out of shape investors, some of whom speculated Ford’s virtual shareholders meeting was intentionally set up to avoid face-to-face confrontation. However, the company answered 27 questions this year, compared to last year’s nine. It also said it would eventually answer the “remaining pertinent questions” online. Ford also managed to reach more investors by going digital.

According to Automotive News, 59 individuals were in attendance at last years meeting. This year, Ford said 147 shareholders took part via their computers, with an additional 203 guests — mainly media — logging on.

Still, complaints persisted. Ford shareholder John Chevedden called the event a “horrible retreat into a foxhole for the company,” suggesting upper management was essentially “hiding in Dearborn in the basement.” Other interested parties continued their assault on the brand’s investment choices and financial well-being as the market stagnates — even though Ford was the only domestic automaker to avoid bankruptcy in the last recession.

You have to feel a little sorry for Mark Fields, who seems to have nothing but the company’s long-term success in mind. It would be easy to imagine investors equally angry if Ford simply ignored emerging technologies, provided its share price was the same.

“If things stay the way they are for another 12-to-24 months, Mark [Fields] could be under even more scrutiny,” said David Whiston, an analyst with Morningstar. “Whether that’s fair or unfair, it won’t even matter at that point. The board will just want to see the stock go up.”

One person Fields had in his corner was Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. “We’re as frustrated as you are by the stock price,” Ford said at the meeting, stating the company “continues to succeed in the present, even as we build a foundation for greater success in the future.”

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Xcalibur255 Xcalibur255 on May 12, 2017

    "what is Ford doing about the market shift towards SUVs" Seriously? This is a legitimate concern for shareholders? People honestly think Ford lacks for selection in the SUV market? With the Expedition redesign and the EcoSport coming there is no visible light in the gaps between their lineup.

  • Mullholland Mullholland on May 12, 2017

    Silly shareholders! Fields should have told them that a new totally redesigned Lincoln Navigator will arrive this summer.

  • Tassos Most people here who think it is a good idea have NO idea how much such a conversion costs. Hint: MORE than buying an entire new car.
  • Zipper69 Current radio ads blare "your local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer" and the facias read the same. Is the honeymoon with FIAT over now the 500 and big 500 have stopped selling?
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh hmmm get rid of the garbage engine in my chevy, and the garbage under class action lawsuit transmission? sounds good to me
  • ToolGuy Personally I have no idea what anyone in this video is talking about, perhaps someone can explain it to me.
  • ToolGuy Friendly reminder of two indisputable facts: A) Winners buy new vehicles (only losers buy used), and B) New vehicle buyers are geniuses (their vehicle choices prove it):