Automotive Head Joe Hinrichs Gone Amid Ford Shakeup
Joe Hinrichs, a top Ford executive tasked with overseeing the company’s global businesses, manufacturing, and product development — and once seen as a potential successor to CEO Jim Hackett — is retiring from the automaker.
The news comes just days after a dismal fourth-quarter earnings report revealed a profit loss of nearly 99 percent in 2019 and a Q4 hit of more than $1.6 billion — with much of the financial damage stemming from the botched launch of the next-generation Explorer.
In the shakeup announced Friday, Jim Farley, formerly head of new businesses, strategy, and all things autonomous, becomes Ford’s new chief operating officer. Effective March 1st, Farley will oversee global markets and automotive operations while maintaining his role as head of Ford Smart Mobility and autonomous vehicle development.
Hau Thai-Tang, head of product development and purchasing, sees his role expand. In addition to his present duties, he’ll be put in charge of Enterprise Product Line Management and connectivity.
Since his arrival in May 2017, Hackett’s chief goal has been the elevation of the automaker’s stubbornly depressed stock — a goal he hoped to reach by convincing Wall Street that Ford had what it takes to make future dollars in the still-emerging world of electric mobility and autonomous vehicle development. This strategy was backed up by a continued focus on popular, high-margin vehicles like trucks and SUVs.
The pricey redesign of what’s arguably the company’s second most important vehicle, the Explorer, fell under that strategy. Joined by a new Lincoln Aviator platform mate, the next-generation Explorer launched last year and immediately ran into trouble. Serious quality issues cropped up on the Chicago assembly line, leaving thousands of SUVs in limbo, awaiting fixes, as dealerships struggled to meet their customers’ needs. Explorer sales fell 26 percent in 2019.
Against this backdrop, including the stock-sinking earnings report, one has to wonder if Hinrichs was forcibly retired. The exec, as well as Farley, took on their current roles only in April of last year.
“I thank Joe for his tremendous leadership over the past two decades,” Hackett said at the tail end of a media release. “Joe was instrumental to Ford’s ability to survive the Great Recession a decade ago without bankruptcy or taxpayer bailout, and successfully headed Ford’s operations in Asia Pacific and North America.
He added, “Most recently, Joe oversaw our global portfolio of iconic vehicles, helped forge a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship with the UAW and was regularly sought out as an authority and promoter of smart global trade.”
Hackett didn’t waste time in lauding Farley, who joined Ford in 2007 as head of marketing and sales. Clearly, he’s now the prospective CEO frontrunner by a mile.
“Jim Farley is the right person to take on this important new role,” Hackett said. “Jim’s passion for great vehicles and his intense drive for results are well known. He also has developed into a transformational leader with the imagination and foresight to help lead Ford into the future.”
Much love was also showered over Thai-Tang, who, Hackett stated, shares his company’s commitment to “strong returns.”
“Hau will be the primary architect as we bring together the vehicle architecture and software stack to create products, services and experiences our customers will love.”
Ford’s stock, which fell nearly 10 percent on February 5th (and stayed there), did not immediately rebound over news of the shakeup. As of publication time, it’s still down 2 percent from yesterday’s close.
[Image: Ford, Adam Tonge/TTAC]
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