Ford reshuffles top ranks

November 13, 1992|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

DEARBORN, Mich. -- Ford Motor Co. unveiled a new top management lineup yesterday, pitching it as the team that will assure a smooth transition of power when Chairman Harold "Red" Poling retires toward the end of 1993.

But by not giving anyone the title of retiring President Philip Benton Jr., Ford left open the question over who would succeed Mr. Poling as chief executive isn't over.

The clear favorite remains Alexander Trotman, who was named president and chief operating officer of Ford Automotive Group, with responsibility for the company's worldwide vehicle operations. Mr. Trotman had been executive vice president in charge of Ford's North American operations.

The other leading CEO contender, Allan Gilmour, was named vice chairman, with responsibility for the Financial Services Group and Ford's corporate staffs. He was an executive vice president and president of Ford Automotive Group, the role Mr. Trotman now assumes.

Mr. Benton, the corporate president and chief operating officer, will retire on Jan. 1.

"There's still flexibility for the board to move key players into the lineup," said Eugene Jennings, Michigan State University management professor emeritus. But, he added, "Trotman is going to be the most crucial figure in Ford's future. . . . When you have 80 percent of the assets under tow, you are running the corporation."

It is only the second time in Ford's 90-year history that the company has been without a president. The last time was around 1970, after William Knudsen left the company and before Lee Iacocca rose to prominence.

Meanwhile, the company's Office of Chief Executive, a titular panel representing the elite of senior management, now includes no fewer than six executives.

The newest additions are Mr. Trotman; Louis Ross, who was promoted to vice chairman yesterday; and Kenneth Whipple, president of Ford Financial Services Group. They join Mr. Poling, Mr. Gilmour and Mr. Stanley Seneker, executive vice president and chief financial officer.

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