As Ford’s ‘President of the Americas’, Mark Fields carries considerable responsibility for the ‘Way Forward’ turnaround plan for North America that is designed to see Ford reverse the heavy losses being incurred in its home market. just-auto editor Dave Leggett recently interviewed Mark Fields at his office in Dearborn.

  • Fields on ‘Way Forward’: “As I look at what we’ve set out to do, I am very, very pleased with the traction and the performance that we’re starting to get.”
  • On the need for a flatter Ford organisational structure: “Sometimes, by the time things that required my approval got to me, the proposals were starting to grow hair.”
  • On Ford’s products: “When you look at the quality of our products and the way they perform and you stack them up against the competition we are very, very competitive across our product line-up.”
  • And the marketing challenge: “The biggest challenge and opportunity we face is the perception gap.”
  • On the Bold Moves’ webisodes: “Initially some management didn’t want to do it – ‘Why would we want to show any warts to the outside world?’…it was a bit of a risk, but I think it was very, very successful.”
  • On Ford’s US product proposition: “We’re going to continue to focus and maintain our leadership on trucks, but I do think you’ll see us focussing more on small cars.”
  • On Ford’s US dealer network: “We do need a strategy to work with our dealer body to reduce the number of dealerships that we have in certain areas.”
  • On his working day: “I usually get in around 6:00am and leave around 7:00pm-7:30pm. So, it’s definitely full.”
  • Fields’ current wheels: “I drive a Lincoln MKX now.”
  • On working abroad: “The most important thing I’ve got out of that on a personal level is a balanced perspective.”

DL: Are you happy with progress thus far on the North America turnaround plan?

MF: As I look at what we’ve set out to do, I am very, very pleased with the traction and the performance that we’re starting to get.

As I look at our priorities I think, very importantly, one of the priorities has been successfully launching products into the marketplace, and how our new products do in the marketplace is an indicator of how we’re going to do going forward.

When you look at our Fusion, in the marketplace for 18 months now, but nonetheless last month [March] we had record sales for the Fusion. So, the Fusion is doing well. When you look at our new Super Duty truck which is a very important vehicle for us, because we do have truck leadership, it’s very profitable for us and we have very loyal customers for it. It’s off to a great start.

There’s also our new Edge crossover. We have a stated strategy to be a leader in the crossover segment and when you look at our share of segment, not only the sales within the segment but also the brand health indicators for the model, it’s very, very strong.

And we’re just launching our new Escape and Mariner which is traditionally a leader in that small SUV/small crossover space.

So, as I look at the launches of our new products, that’s a good indicator to me that we’re making progress.

Secondly, when you look at our quality we’ve said very clearly that quality is a ticket to entry and we’ve made a lot of very, very good progress, not only measured by our own internal surveys  – the latest quarterly survey is very, very positive in terms of year-on-year improvements – but also versus facing competition. A number of our products were leaders, like – for example – the Fusion and Mercury Milan beat the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

But even when you look at some of the third party views of our quality – Consumer Reports, for example – they are showing that we are making a lot of good strides there.

When you look at our plans for financial results, it’s important that we stay focussed on that. We have said that on a year-over-year basis we look to improve our results on an operating basis and I expect us to deliver that.

And one of the other important indicators in terms of how we are doing is…

We’ve gone through a pretty wrenching transition over the past month or two in that we’ve said goodbye to about a third of our salaried workforce. The good news is that we haven’t missed a beat in terms of delivering the things that we need to deliver in the business.

And we’re also in the process of eliminating a large proportion of our hourly workforce.

DL: A third of the salaried workforce? How many people is that?

MF: When we announced the Way Forward acceleration plan back in September we said that over the period it would be the salary cost equivalent of about 14,000 people. Last year we eliminated about 4,000 of that, leaving about 10,000 salaried equivalents. Most of those people exited at the end of February and the remainder will work their way out over the balance of this year.

It’s a significant change because not only do we focus on number of people, but also, very importantly, I wanted to focus on layers of management. It had got to the point where we had so many layers between myself and the lowest level person – whether in engineering, purchasing, finance, marketing or sales – that decisions tended to take on a life on their own.

Sometimes, by the time things that required my approval got to me, the proposals were starting to grow hair, they were so old.

So we really focussed on stripping out layers of management.

And I think the last thing that we have made a lot of progress on is our tone in the marketplace in that if you look at the way we were communicating here in the US, our marketing communications, we’ve taken on a much more confident – not arrogant, we have no right to be arrogant – but confident tone about our products. We’re really stressing to customers the proof points on why you should put us on your consideration list.

It’s almost a 21st century version of a 1970s campaign, ‘Have you driven a Ford lately?’

I’m really pleased by the manner in which we have matured our marketing communications which has been in conjunction with our new products. And we have nothing to be ashamed about concerning our current showroom. We talk a lot about products that are coming, but we have a very strong product line-up today and going out with a confident tone is very important.

So, on a number of those elements I’m pleased that we’re making progress. We still have a lot of challenges, challenges to be competitive in certain areas and that’s why I’m not ‘happy’. We won’t be happy until a lot of other things fall in place.

DL: You mention the importance of new product in North America and hitting growing crossover demand with vehicles like the Ford Edge. Could the Edge make it into export markets outside of North America, Europe perhaps?

MF: Right now probably not. But one of the things that you are going to start to see us doing as a company and Alan Mulally our new CEO has been focussing on this: how do we act truly as a global company and leverage not only our expertise around the world but our assets – whether its architectures, components, built-up vehicles etc?

Some of that is gated by tariffs and things of that nature that stress the business case and then you lay over currencies – that tends to make life a little exciting.

But I’ve had the good fortune to work in all of the Ford brands in different parts of the world and I’ve seen how we’ve run the business more regionally – to maximise the results in that particular region.

Our business model has had to change because we have to leverage our scale.

So, in answer to the Edge, we have no plans to export that particular model, but as we go forward I think it is really important that we have the opportunity to share components, vehicles etc in different parts of the world.

Will that happen? We’ll see, but I think you will see a more coordinated approach.


The full interview with Mark Fields is available for download to just-auto members as a bonus management briefing.

See also: US: Bridging ‘perception gap’ in NA is our biggest challenge – Ford’s Fields