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Mr. Ford’s Fatal Flip Flops

Is William Clay Ford, Jr. the right man to lead the company in troubled times?

January 25, 2006

Is William Clay Ford, Jr. the right man to lead the company in troubled times?

William Clay Ford, Jr. is the first member of his family to run the Ford Motor Company since his uncle Henry Ford II in the 1970s. In an attempt to turn around the company’s fortunes, he just announced major job cuts and restructuring. Still, many observers question whether Mr. Ford is the right man to lead the company in these troubled times. We present key opinions by and about Mr. Ford.

Is it fun running the family business?

“It’s not sexy. It’s a lot of hard work.”
(William Clay Ford Jr., chairman and CEO of Ford Motor Company, November 2002)

Which question posed to Mr. Ford sums up the company's problems?

“Why are you losing so much money?”
(Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, November 2003)

Why has Ford been unable to keep pace with competitors like Toyota?

“It’s a management problem. Many of us have been inconsistent over the last 20 years in pursuing our strategies.”
(William Clay Ford Jr., May 2004)

How is Mr. Ford intending to turn around the company's fortunes?

"We need a dramatically different business structure — and we need innovation to drive everything we do."
(William Clay Ford Jr., October 2005)

Should he expect continued rough going?

"Like steel, textiles, airlines and other American industries that have undergone radical restructuring, we expect an increasingly volatile and difficult environment for the companies involved and for their shareholders."
(John Casesa, Merrill Lynch analyst, October 2005)

Have there been persistent questions about Mr. Ford's qualifications to get the job done?

“He is trying to run one of the most difficult turnarounds in the history of capitalism. Does he have the experience to do that? Clearly not.”
(Unnamed analyst, May 2003)

Is the sheer size of the company part of the problem?

“We're still trying to put the brakes on a freight train. We’ve got to stop it before we can turn it around.”
(William Clay Ford Jr., November 2002)

But then again, is Ford's size also an asset in lean times?

“Yes, it’s tough out there — but thankfully we have the balance sheet that allows us to survive no matter what the world throws at us.”
(William Clay Ford Jr., June 2003)

Why is it so hard to come by good news these days?

“The nature of the job is, you only hear problems — I guess that’s what a CEO’s job is — but good news is few and far between. And if there is good news, they forget to tell you.”
(William Clay Ford Jr., November 2002)

And yet, how has Mr. Ford tried to keep up the morale of his employees?

“I’m asking you to work hard. Keep the big picture in mind. Think about what really matters. Do that and nothing else.”
(William Clay Ford Jr., November 2002)

How did Mr. Ford describe the benefits of his environmental views when he was appointed chairman of Ford?

“It will create an image for Ford in a cluttered and crowded marketplace, in which differentiation is hard to obtain — particularly in image.”
(William Clay Ford Jr., September 1998)

Which stereotype has he tried to overcome ever since?

“Puppy-eyed environmentalist.”
(Economist editorial, March 2002)

Has that image kept him from being attacked by environmentalists?

“A lot of people have accused me of having gasoline in my veins.”
(William Clay Ford Jr., July 2002)

And yet, does Ford continue to be too reliant on gas-guzzling SUVs and pick-up trucks?

"The future arrived faster than we expected because of this year's sharp spike in fuel prices."
(William Clay Ford Jr., October 2005)

What are the stakes for Mr. Ford and the company?

“This is everything. It’s heritage. It’s children’s future. It’s everything tied up into one. Failure is not an option.”
(William Clay Ford Jr., November 2002)

And finally, what sanctions might his family impose if he does not succeed in turning around Ford?

“Hopefully, he’ll do a good job. If he doesn’t, I’ll cut his allowance. He’s too big to spank.”
(William Clay Ford Sr., on his son, Bill Jr., September 1998)