Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Hackett no longer qualifies as new on the job.
By Halloween, Hackett will have passed the halfway point of Mark Fields' 34.5-month tenure — today is Hackett's 17-month anniversary — and yet we still know so little about where he's taking the company. Many dealers finally met him for the first time just last week, at a nationwide gathering of Ford's retail body in Las Vegas.
The murkiness of Hackett's "fitness" regimen for Ford has understandably made people nervous. After Fields failed to get Ford shares moving higher, the stock has performed even worse under Hackett, dropping below $9 this month to the lowest level in nearly nine years. And while Ford employees are perplexed by Hackett-isms such as "design thinking" and "organizational redesign," they got an ominous picture when he and the human-resources chief recently emailed them a video saying the company would shrink its global salaried work force.
Hackett's status as an automotive outsider and everyone's memories of Ford's last big restructuring naturally invite comparisons to Alan Mulally, who steered the automaker through dark days. Arguably, Mulally's greatest accomplishment was quickly getting everyone, from the factory floor to far-flung dealership showrooms, pulling together in the same direction behind a cohesive vision — "One Ford." Ford might not need a business card-sized plan to rally the troops this time, but investors, dealers and employees alike are hungry for clear targets and tangible evidence that the company is moving forward, not flailing around.
There are no signs that Hackett is losing the confidence of Executive Chairman Bill Ford or the board of directors, as ultimately happened with Fields, but the contrast with General Motors isn't reassuring. True, GM's stock price also has declined. And, sure, GM might not be focused on exactly the right technology and business models yet either.
But under CEO Mary Barra, everyone has a pretty clear idea where GM is heading. There's no indication a broad restructuring is needed. GM's self-driving vehicle unit, Cruise Automation, has soared in value while attracting major investment from SoftBank and Honda Motor Co.
Meanwhile, Ford canceled an investor day last month, saying it wasn't ready to share its plan in detail. Everyone depending on that plan is ready, and eager, to see that it has one.