By on February 10, 2020

Last Friday’s shakeup in the uppermost ranks of Ford Motor Company came as a surprise, with many employees and observers claiming that the automaker’s former president of automotive, Joe Hinrichs, took the fall for the company’s recent failings.

After announcing Hinrichs’ unexpected retirement and elevating Jim Farley, head of new businesses and autonomy, to chief operating officer (effective March 1st), CEO Jim Hackett responded to the decision in a media scrum. At the same time, Hinrichs was delivering a letter to Ford employees.

The letter sent to Ford’s automotive leadership team, obtained by Automotive News, sees Hinrichs — who showed no desire to leave in the weeks and months leading up to his departure — talk up the company’s successes.

“We concluded the investment in Rivian, literally stealing it away from GM in the last days,” Hinrichs wrote. “We took a leadership stand on climate change and, after unsuccessful attempts to bring California and the White House together, forged our own path forward with a fuel economy agreement with CARB. We helped the USMCA agreement finally come to life. We worked in the background to help the US and China finally find common ground on trade.”

From rolling out new truck and SUV models to business shakeups and streamlining efforts in China, Europe, and South America, Hinrichs offered up a hit parade for employees. The alliance with Volkswagen and Ford’s Indian joint venture with Mahindra also factored into his company’s forward-thinking successes, though these efforts have yet to bear financial fruit.

Hinrichs was also happy to see the Bronco, a product he fought for, poised to reach production.

“I will be proudly watching as that finally happens,” he wrote.

Hinrichs’ sudden departure came soon after a stock-sinking earnings report born of troubles in the Ford Explorer/Lincoln Aviator rollout, plus red ink stemming from lawsuits and recalls. He capped off the goodbye letter with a plea to the leadership team:

I do have one last request. Please pass this note along to your teams and all our wonderful Ford employees as I unfortunately will not get the chance to say thanks myself. To each and every employee at Ford Motor Company – thank you for all your love and support. It has been an honor to serve with you.

Speaking to media soon after the announcement, Hackett said Hinrichs “was beloved” by execs and employees alike. His promotion to president of automotive was only revealed by Hackett last April.

“Joe’s going to have a wonderful career. But everybody believes the momentum that we’re talking about building here is the right thing to do,” the CEO said.

Ford employees responded quickly to the news. In posts on the automaker’s internal company website (seen by the Detroit Free Press), many offered grateful tributes, characterizing Hinrichs as a “sacrificial lamb” and a “fall guy.”

Hackett’s leadership factored into several posts, with one employee claiming, “In the last couple years I did not see even one person who supported Hackett.”

The newspaper noted that emails sent to Hinrichs over the weekend bounced back, showing that the man once seen as a candidate for CEO is now truly a former exec. As the automaker moves on from a terrible week, all eyes will be in the company’s stock. Its share price sank nearly 10 percent on February 5th, and Friday’s shakeup did nothing to restore investor confidence.

[Image: Ford]

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30 Comments on “Hinrichs’ Departure Puts Heat on Ford CEO Hackett...”

  • avatar

    They got rid of Hinrichs, and promoted Jim Farley? Oh man, they’re screwed.

  • avatar

    Looks like Peter De Lorenzo over at The Autoextremist is on this. Today’s Rant, “FORD’S HIGHWAY TO HELL.”:

    Must go read it now.

    • 0 avatar

      He’s right about almost everything except NOT putting their ad agency of 73 years up for review. Agencies need to be fresh with new ideas and completely detached from the client. In their case, and with BBDO’s case that had been with Chrysler so long they leased the building beside Chrysler HQ is that they turn into regular yes-men employees. Only after Fiat came in and got rid of them for new agencies did their advertising improve 10 fold. (eminem super bowl, 2011 grand cherokee launch, dexter, dodge muscle etc)

      So will Fords, but it won’t mean anything with the current clowns running the place.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed. By the way, don’t forget to add Ram’s “Farmer” Super Bowl ad featuring Paul Harvey. That was the best vehicle ad I ever saw in my life. Ram sales since speak for themselves.

        I don’t always 100% agree with De Lorenzo, but I find his wisdom to always be based with solid reasoning.

      • 0 avatar

        for as much as he seems to dislike Olivier Francois, he’s never been shy about giving him credit when they hit a home run.

        • 0 avatar

          What he did was genius, they brought in all these (major) agencies to pitch, then chose different ones for each brand. But he didn’t stop there, he then had them pitch again and again for certain projects no matter the brand and it turned into FCA having 3-4 agencies at their disposal.

  • avatar

    The latest autoextremist post on this subject is worth reading.

    edit: or what dukeisduke said ;)

    • 0 avatar

      This sticks out:

      “This latest ‘humanization’ campaign of Farley is unmitigated bullshit – and it has nothing to do with the ‘real’ Jim Farley – the one hordes of people at Ford have grown to loathe with a seething level of disgust that is palpable.”

      Holy crap.

      Read it all, for it is good.

  • avatar

    Like PDL hinted at, this is a failure of leadership on Bill Ford’s part. Hinricks was the guy keeping it all together. Hackett has yet to deliver on his grand visions. I don’t want to see how this story ends.

  • avatar

    I bought Ford stock the day of the quarterly, in the expectation that continued failure under Hackett would speed his replacement by someone competent, like Mike Manley. The day they promoted Farley, another beancounter, the guy who launched Scion when he was with Toyota, who seems to have bought into the autonomous hype that Hackett is pedaling, I sold the stock.

  • avatar

    +++++1 on Peter’s fantastic autoextremist story. He hit the nail on the head!

    I think Jim Hackett will go down in history as the worst CEO Ford has ever had. I think there will be business school case studies written about him and his tenure, and not for complimentary reasons but as examples of ‘don’t let this happen to you’. But then, this should not have been a surprise for someone whose professional experience was selling office furniture. I think the car business is just a bit more complicated and harder than that. The only person who could be a worse CEO than Hackett is Jim Farley, and it certainly looks like Ford is going to make the Hackett mistake worse by following it up with an even bigger mistake.

    I think the Ford family is positioning the company to sell it to VW (who need a solution to their reputation/credibility problem in the US because of dieselgate) or maybe BMW. Both of them would love to add trucks to their product lines. It will be a very sad day to see the end of such a storied, legendary name as Ford. In the meantime, all this Hackett/Farley/Hinrich ridiculousness is like watching a slow motion train wreck happening.

  • avatar

    Everyone watching this knows what’s going on, i.e., his hide was used to protect someone else’s. Hinrich played it well, probably thinking Ford’s trajectory won’t change with his axing and exonerate him ex post facto. I’d like to know what his sep package is worth. Money can’t buy happiness but it sure makes misery comfortable.

    Edit: Off to Autoextremist….sounds like it’s worth checking out.

    • 0 avatar

      >>Everyone watching this knows what’s going on, i.e., his hide was used to protect someone else’s.<<

      I bet that "farewell to the troops" letter was written by the Ford PR department, or Hackett. Almost went into saccharin overload reading that drivel.

      As for Hackett, he was miserable at Steelcase too. I worked at a Steelcase dealer during the Hackett era, and heard the complaints of the installers and PMs about how the quality of the product plunged. Anyone who bought Steelcase stock at the IPO in the late 90s has been hosed. People that held Herman Miller over the same period have done far better. Seems that, in promoting Farley, Hackett has polished his image by making sure his successor does no better than he, and could do even worse, just as Steelcase has continued to struggle after Hackett’s departure.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s one of the many tragedies of American business culture at big companies. Executives usually hire people dumber and less competent than they are, so that their subordinates don’t show them up and make them look bad.

      • 0 avatar

        Steelcase had an office chair which they sold for decades without changes, and from what I’d read, was the gold standard in mid-tier furnishings (below Aeon and the like). Now all of their stuff looks like cheap Chinese garbage with the worst looks of the 1960s mixed in!

    • 0 avatar

      Hinrichs is only 53, so I could see him catching on with someone else.

  • avatar

    It’s amazing to think there’s an automotive CEO worse than Mulally but Ford found one.

    At least when Mulally cut quality to abysmal levels profits went up. With Hackett you don’t even get that.

    • 0 avatar

      Few people think that Mulally was a bad CEO. His strategy was good and other than the Powershift transmission I can’t think about a bad product launched under his tenure

    • 0 avatar

      Few people think that Mulally was a bad CEO. His strategy was good and other than the Powershift transmission I can’t think about a bad product launched under his tenure

  • avatar

    I had bled as much Ford blue blood as anyone since my driving experience in 1980 behind the wheel of a 1964 Ford Falcon that my Dad bought and taught me how to get it to run (the sound of the rod’s knocking after two miles of driving still haunts me). I had never owned anything other than a Ford product (one Lincoln as well) since. And when my 1997 Ford Escort that I bought new (built in August of 1996) started to be problematic, I had a choice – continue with Ford or to go elsewhere.

    My life now is simple – I don’t need to impress anyone other than my wallet and bank account. I wanted as simple of a car as I could find that was dependable and as thrifty as my Escort which started to become a home of gremlins. But hey, I bought it for $10k new and drove it 22 years and 178k miles before it became a mobile home for wayward gremlins, I figured I got my money’s worth. For 21 years, it was as dependable as any Honduh.

    The trouble with Ford is that they ditched their cars. And the ones that I could still buy new (or used) were tainted by a horrific transmission that would render even a manual transmission version as virtually worthless if I chose to resell later. And since I wanted a manual transmission, I was further doomed by trying to find a Ford that wasn’t a Mustang with a manual.

    (sound of an opening door)

    Back in my post college days, I had sold Hyundais new. And contrary to the spin that was harvested about early Hyundais, they weren’t bad cars. The ones I sold were essentially Mitsubishis with different bodies. Mom bought one from me at my cost and turned around three years later and bought a T-Bird – only because she’d always wanted one – and she ended up getting $500 less for the used Hyundai than what she paid for it new from me. It never gave her any problems. Ever. That T-Bird was a glorious car for 15 years until it became a wayward home for gremlins and was replaced by a Focus Wagon while they were still being made. She still has it.

    So, I decided to approach a car purchase with an open mind but soon discovered that to acquire a Honduh or Toyoduh was not a good deal. There is a premium to own one of those brands and I wasn’t going to pay that. I had no illusion that my next car would have to go 178k miles, so I reasoned that something that would go 100k wasn’t out of the question and the brand that kept impressing me for value was Kyundai.

    So I am full circle in my life – I bought a used 2016 hyundai Elantra with 21k miles last January and I’ve put 10k miles on it without a hint of problem. The car looks brand new – I was picky – I chose wisely, and I did research for 6 months. So I new the price point for a good deal and bought the lowest mileage car I could find. I have not been disappointed. And 44 mpgs per tank over those miles makes me smile!

    I could have remained a Ford buyer, but the company left me. I wasn’t going to buy the garbage they were building only to lose more money because of a tainted reputation that the company had built.

    I am a proud owner of a Hyundai. And my next car will be either a Hyundai, a Kia, or a Genesis (if I want to treat myself). I can assure you that I won’t be a Ford customer until I see competence running the company.

  • avatar

    How long does it take for a comment to get through moderation? I posted a quote from PMD’s Rant at The Autoextremist this morning, and it’s still stuck in moderation.

    • 0 avatar

      Forget about comments in moderation. One of the authors has to spot and release the comment, after trying to find why quasimodo flagged it. I had a comment in moderation, then another, then another. When I commented a complaint about quasimodo, it moderated that too. My advice is to act like you never submitted that comment, and move on with your life.

  • avatar

    Ford now has to hope that their future in the pipeline cars are a big success! Mach E, new re-design Edge, baby Bronco and Bronco. The new Explorer and Escape are big duds!

  • avatar

    It’s a little late, but for the record, here’s PMD’s note regarding Hackett’s firing in Hinrichs in “On The Table”:

    “Editor-in-Chief’s Note: The fact that Ford tried to pin responsibility for the company’s dismal fourth quarter results on Joe Hinrichs was predictable and pathetic. And I am glad he told them to go pound sand. Joe is too good and has too much to offer to depart for the Land of Leisure just yet. Any number of companies could benefit from his talent and expertise. I will name one. If Elon Musk was as smart as he thinks he is, he’d offer the moon to Joe to come in and turn Tesla into a properly functioning car company – and then get the hell out of the way. But St. Elon’s ego would never allow it. I will reiterate what I said in my column. Why is Hackett still there? And when Bill Ford hands the keys to the Kingdom to Farley after Hackett is retired, I fear for the future of the company. Knowledgeable, seasoned professionals have seen right through Farley’s smarm offensive from the beginning. But Farley was smart enough to know that he only had two people to convince of his brilliance and that he was “the guy” – Hackett and Bill Ford. And it worked. Now, however, and to make things worse, we’re going to be forced to endure an endless series of articles in the press that canonize Farley, which is a revolting development if there ever was one. Memo to the True Believers at Ford: Good night and good luck. – PMD”

    Hinrichs to Tesla? Not a bad idea.

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