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Ford Tough - Bill Ford and the Battle to Rebuild America’s Automaker





Book: 'Ford Tough - Bill Ford and the Battle to Rebuild America’s Automaker'

Author: David Magee

Publisher:John Wiley & Sons


Leader Values

In Ford Tough, writer and publisher David Magee gives us a unique insider’s view of the Ford Motor Company’s recent roller coaster ride from success to disaster, and back to success. As the plot unfolds, we get an instructive case history of what can go wrong when a company becomes overly focused on building profits to please its shareholders – and the extent to which strong leadership can turn disaster into victory.

The story starts in 1998, when the world was in the grip of ‘dot com fever’. Companies like and eBay were all glamour, growth and potential. By comparison, long-established companies of the old economy looked like poor performers. The dot coms captured shareholder interest in a way that long-established giant corporations seemed unable to match.

In that year, the Ford Motor Company appointed a new Chairman – Bill Ford, great grandson of the legendary Henry Ford who founded the company almost a century earlier – and a new CEO, Jac Nasser. The company was on a roll at the time, having achieved an average annual profit of US$5 billion over the previous six years. But this was the height of the dot com boom. Shareholders saw Ford as a manufacturing company and stock was consequently undervalued.

Ford Tough gives a sobering account of the company’s plan to compete with the dot coms. The approach was quite simple – to “move Ford closer to consumers through technology and diversification”. The aim was to deliver higher return to shareholders and avoid the cyclical ups and downs of the auto industry. This meant diversifying the product line-up by acquiring Volvo and Land Rover, taking control of key car dealerships, moving into the service and repair industry, and forming many Internet joint ventures. The extent of the change was highlighted by the removal of the familiar blue oval logo signs from the company’s headquarters.

In hindsight, the outcome seems as inevitable as a Shakespearean tragedy. Ford threw away one of the world’s most recognizable corporate identities, outraged its dealers and alienated its own workforce. In addition, there was a costly wrangle with Firestone over tyre failures and a deadly explosion at the company’s Rouge manufacturing complex. Ford was soon in deep trouble, with sales, quality and profits all taking a nosedive.

This situation would challenge any leader. But luckily, Bill Ford was no ordinary leader. Many people saw him as a nice guy, who was unsuited to running a big company. But in reality he was more like a comic book superhero. Behind that mild-mannered exterior, he was a martial arts expert who laughed over painfully dislocated fingers and made tough business decisions unflinchingly. His strong leadership enabled Ford to weather their self-inflicted storm and return to profitability within a few years.

According to the old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. Ford Tough demonstrates the truth of that adage - both for the Ford Company itself, and also for its leader.

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