No. 1009
August 14, 2019

About The Autoextremist

Peter M. DeLorenzo has been immersed in all things automotive since childhood. Privileged to be an up-close-and-personal witness to the glory days of the U.S. auto industry, DeLorenzo combines that historical legacy with his own 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising to bring unmatched industry perspectives to the Internet with, which was founded on June 1, 1999. DeLorenzo is known for his incendiary commentaries and laser-accurate analysis of the automobile business, as well as racing and the business of motorsports. Author. Commentator. Influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

DeLorenzo's latest book is Witch Hunt (Octane Press It is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats, as well as on iBookstore. DeLorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. Having a classic lyric from The Beatles work as a headline makes me happy, especially when it’s dead-on accurate concerning this week’s subject: The turmoil roiling the Ford Motor Company at this very moment. And that turmoil begins and ends with CEO Jim Hackett. 

Loyalists to Bill Ford Jr. are dismissing the constant hand-wringing about the leadership – or lack thereof – of Jim Hackett as whining by people who just don’t like change. Or even more derogatorily, as people who just don’t get it. This is classic spin emanating from Ford, as if the hoary claim that “you’re just not hip enough to understand” actually carries substance and weight and can be considered a legitimate explanation.

Well, it doesn’t, and it isn’t, and patience is wearing thin on all fronts, both from inside the company and within the financial community. All of these feelings, mostly bad, have been brought to the fore by Phoebe Wall Howard’s devastating piece in the Detroit Free Press, entitled “Anxiety builds for Ford employees. Hackett says that’s fair, but he’s confident.” 

In it, the consternation within Ford is writ large. Hackett is an addled professor-type who speaks in quirky catchphrases, or single-spaced two-page memos, or even worse, by handing out books so that the minions can become as educated about things as their CEO. 

One salient quote from Howard’s piece says a lot: “Jim is not from this world and does not listen,” a senior-level executive who has worked in and around Ford for decades told the Free Press. "He just does not listen. He’s more on transmit mode. He doesn’t take time to understand where people are coming from. Why things are the way they are. Whether it’s reasons we have plants where they are, reasons we do certain things in manufacturing.”

In case you forgot, Hackett’s claim to fame is that he was the touchy-feely CEO of Steelcase furniture, a Silicon Valley/Mobility devotee, acting Athletic Director for the University of Michigan and a longtime friend of Bill Ford Jr. Seems logical to hand him the reins of the Ford Motor Company, right?

And here’s another quote from the Freep: “Instead of simply making the point that hiring too quickly is bad business, Hackett distributed a book, “Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life, in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies," by theoretical physicist Geoffrey West, who has been called the dean of complexity science. This is the sort of thing that makes earthlings at Ford crazy.”

Can you imagine? Not only are you, as a Ford minion, too unhip to understand things, you’re given a book by the CEO so that you can get your mind right, because clearly your experience having worked in and around Ford and the automobile business for your entire career counts for absolutely nothing. And now, Professor Moonbeam will show you the way to the Light of Enlightenment. Gee, thanks. 

No wonder legions of senior Ford executives are bristling under Hackett, whom I am now officially dubbing “Professor Moonbeam.” Hackett insists he is a conductor who has been brought in to push people, but to where is a legitimate question. Is it for the overall “fitness” of the company, his favorite trope? Because if it is, he has failed miserably. In a business that sustains itself on speed and accuracy, Hackett is insisting people have to get their minds right before approaching a problem. But high-level navel-gazing is a fool’s errand in this business, and to the extent that Hackett is insisting on it so that Ford can fly “the right way” is effectively killing the company. 

No wonder the financial community is questioning everything about Ford these days. They have been waiting for going on two years now for Hackett to show them something, anything, that would engender confidence in the Ford Motor Company, and they haven’t seen one thing. Oh sure, they’ve heard a lot of “It Won’t Be Long Now!” talk from Hackett, which veers dangerously close to the Unmitigated Bullshit Hall of Fame, but despite all of the “We’ve Got It Goin’ On” platitudes being bandied about by Hackett and the few executives who have been ordered to buy into the bullshit – or else – the essence of the Ford Motor Company remains building and selling F-150 trucks, Explorers, Escapes, Mustangs and the few Lincolns worth a second look. 

Meanwhile, the company’s business around the globe is contracting at a furious rate, and the vaunted Ford regions are coming apart, with sales dropping 10 percent in two years. But that doesn’t even begin to cover it. How bad is it for Ford in the world’s largest vehicle market? How does a sales plunge of 44 percent in China over the last two years sound? Just off the top of my head, that’s a giant bowl of Not Good.

The other main concern about Hackett is that his strategic "plan" for the company is simplistic, predictable and weak, almost bordering on being something that a "Master of the Obvious" would bring to the table. Restructuring; exiting underperforming product lines and markets; cutting costs; engineering "intelligent" vehicles with connectivity that consumers will actually desire; creating green and safe mobility for the people and blah-blah-blah. There is absolutely nothing new here. It's exactly what you'd expect someone from outside the industry, one who has very little feel for the business, to come up with. I would be amazed if it took all of fifteen minutes. It's not very good, is it?

Ford's biggest issue in the here and now? Its product cadence borders on the piss-poor. Its inability to execute new products in a timely fashion is glaringly inexcusable. The delayed delivery of the Bronco is just one painful example of this – that it may see showrooms by the end of 2020 (let's face it, that means early 2021 in Ford time) is simply incomprehensible. In fact, it has now achieved status as the worst running joke in the industry. If Jim Hackett had stood up on his first day at Ford and said, "It's about the product, it has always been about the product, and it always will be about the product" I would have given him the benefit of the doubt at least. 

But now, that window is closed.

And by the way, some of those aforementioned executives should keep their mouths shut, especially Julie Lodge-Jarrett, the company’s chief talent officer who had the following to say: “We brought in a CEO that could supplement where our strengths were and help us with what we weren’t doing. I do think there is some misunderstanding. You have left-brain engineering talking to creative design thinking and the brain doesn’t work in the same way. He might answer a question different than they’re used to. They might think he doesn’t get it but it might be they who don’t get it.”

Huh? Interesting. As a matter of fact, I have a book to recommend for Ms. Lodge-Jarrett since that seems to be Professor Moonbeam’s preferred way of communicating. It’s entitled, “Hell on Earth: The Universal Laws of Spinning the Unspinnable, Unchecked Regression, Rote Predictability and Struggling to Defend the Indefensible for No Apparent Reason Whatsoever." It’s by my alter ego, Michael Paratore, and it’s a real page-turner.

I have written about Ford two times in the last ten months – “Ford in Free Fall” and “A Tale of Two Fords.” Each time wasn’t exactly complimentary, to put it mildly. And now, things are getting progressively worse for the family-controlled company. And this is really too bad, because it is no small thing that people in this area speak fondly of the Ford Motor Company. In fact, it’s gut-wrenching. People who work there often refer to working “at Ford’s” as if being part of a family. And to a large extent that is true. Bill Ford Jr. has set the tone that his family’s company takes care of its people, and that is certainly commendable in this day and age of instant gratification and fleeting loyalty. It is what makes Ford so special and such a part of the fabric of this region. 

But... and there's always a "but."

Bill Ford alighted on the notion that Hackett could be The Guy for the Ford Motor Company 22 months ago. Unfortunately, Hackett has shown only intermittent flashes that he could be The Guy. Hackett by all accounts is a decent, smart and well-meaning guy, but he just doesn’t have the depth and breadth of experience to make a real difference at Ford. And right now, the one thing Ford desperately needs more than anything else is a chief executive who understands this business inside and out and can guide Ford through perilous waters. Ford needs a visible force who can present the company’s mission clearly and succinctly, but more important, one who can execute and implement at an accelerated pace. Wistful meanderings and engaged discussions about theories and conjecture are nice, but they aren't going to save the Ford Motor Company at this juncture. A lot of people looking in from the outside can see that, even though the Fog of War has obscured the vision of too many people at the top of Ford.

I said the following last May: “Bill Ford has a very difficult task facing him. He has to admit publicly (after first admitting it to himself) that Jim Hackett isn’t The Guy.” 

Following up on that, Jim Hackett is not only not The Guy, he is the auto industry’s Nowhere Man, a stranger in a strange land wandering around lost in a blissful haze of organism-think while contemplating the pace of life. And it’s going nowhere good.

Hackett is simply the wrong guy, at the wrong time, at the wrong company.  

And his fifteen minutes are up.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.