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CEO Jim Hackett pushing Ford team as investors watch with caution

Phoebe Wall Howard, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

DETROIT -- Ford CEO Jim Hackett, eight months into his role, brings an unconventional approach to the auto industry, which leaves colleagues inspired and observers sometimes a bit confused.

He has said publicly the company can do better, including after Wednesday's earnings report: "Clearly, I and my team are not satisfied."

Ford's stock price is flat over the past 12 months while competitors have shown strong growth.

Investors say privately they wish Ford officials talked with more clarity and confidence.

Within Ford, though, many see their new leader, a former Michigan Wolverine football player who was regarded as a visionary as CEO at Steelcase, as "pushing" and "coaching" the team.

"You need to know where you want to go. I'm not talking about around the corner," said CFO Bob Shanks, who put himself through school working the Ford assembly line.

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Internally, Ford refers to being guided by a "North Star."

"Jim is certainly a very deep thinker, no question about that. He can think in a way that can be abstract," Shanks said. "What we have to do a better job of, and I take this personally, is the need to connect the results of today with that North Star. What is the bridge that enables the investors, employees, stakeholders to understand the journey we're going to be on? We are working on that."

Auto industry competitors, Shanks said, "are further along in terms of refining that ... narrative that helps investors understand the walk from today to the further future."

At the start of the 2018 Detroit auto show, a French journalist noted the unusual phrases used by Ford executives in recent months and wondered if the approach was atypical or simply a language barrier.

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