Ford Motor Company, the world’s second largest manufacturer of cars and trucks, plans to make further board changes, adding new directors and strengthening the “international flavour” of its boardroom.
The proposed changes follow numerous senior management shuffles over the past 18 months, dominated last year by the appointment of Henry Wallace as Ford’s new chief financial officer and the promotion of several highly-regarded production executives, such as David Thursfield, the new president of Ford in Europe.
Bill Ford, who last year became chairman of the company that his great-grandfather founded, indicated that he would like the board to have a stronger international element, with more directors from outside the automotive industry. He did not give a schedule for the changes, but suggested they would be made “as time goes on”.
“We’re not finished yet restructuring the board,” he said. “There is no gaping need in terms of skills mix. It’s more about individuals, strength of personality and business knowledge.”
The likely changes reflect pressure from some shareholders for more “independent” directors on the company’s key board committees.
A proposal suggesting more independence for the audit, compensation and nomination committee, won support from 18 per cent of shares voted at last year’s annual meeting, up from 15 per cent in 1998.
“Whoever we end up with has to have a global perspective,” said Mr Ford.
Since becoming chairman Mr Ford has appointed two new independent directors: Jorma Ollila, the chairman of Nokia, the world’s largest mobile telecommunications manufacturer, and Robert Rubin, the former US treasury secretary.
Mr Ford said the Nokia chairman “represented a couple of elements we didn’t have – European leadership and telecommunications”.
Mr Rubin, he added, “had the choice of any board in the world to go on – and he was going to choose one only – and he chose us.”
Their appointments took the size of the Ford board to 13 – including three family members as well as Jac Nasser, the company’s chief executive.
A further four board members have held their positions since the 1980s, and a couple run companies much smaller than Ford. Aside from Mr Ollila, they are largely North American-based.
The Ford chairman insisted that Jac Nasser was fully involved and supportive of the boardroom restructuring. He also played down industry rumours of a tense relationship with his tough-talking chief executive.
“I don’t ever say to Jac this is your problem,” he said. “As two individuals were not always in lock-step but it’s very much a partnership. Jac has responsibility for executing the strategy.”