Ford's chairman-elect doesn't foresee changes But he's known for new products

October 18, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

On Nov. 1, Alexander Trotman, 60, will take over as president, chairman and chief executive of Ford Motor Co., as Harold "Red" Poling, a 42-year Ford veteran and chairman since 1990, retires. Mr. Trotman heads Ford's worldwide automotive operations, and previously ran Ford's European operations.

Mr. Trotman is known for his emphasis on new products. He was the one who challenged a group of young engineers and designers to redo the venerable Mustang sports coupe on the cheap -- the only way Ford could afford to keep the car alive. Ford formally unveiled the new Mustang around the nation yesterday.

He also backed the Mondeo,Ford's $6 billion "world car" that went on sale in Europe this year and will appear in the United States next year.

Born in Middlesex, England, Mr. Trotman was a Royal Air Forcnavigator before he joined Ford 38 years ago. An interview with Mr. Trotman follows.

QUESTIONS : How will Ford change under Alex Trotman?

ANSWER: I hope not much at all. We have a good game plan that's working, a good team of people, good product that's resulted in our best share of the market since 1978, five of the top 10 selling vehicles in the market and a strong [future] product plan on the way. My task is to keep it all going.

Q: Is one of your goals for Ford to be No. 1, ahead of GM?

To be candid, we don't actually think about it. We don't have a

mark on the wall to beat GM. We focus on customer satisfaction . . . and let market share take us where it wants to go.

Do you plan to open new plants to increase capacity? Or,

because Ford is focused on cost-cutting, are plant closings, employee layoffs or sending more work to outside suppliers in the United States or elsewhere, including Mexico, in your plans?

I'm happy to report none of those things are in the plans. We don't need greenfield [entirely new] plants. We hope to break up bottlenecks at existing plants, instead, to raise capacity. We intend to upgrade and expand old addresses [plants] rather than build new ones. We aren't going to add new buildings or plants. We also aren't going to close plants. . . . We also have no plans to add new facilities in Mexico, and ditto for Europe.

Now the Asia-Pacific market is a bit different. I'm not saying we're going to add plants in that region of the world, but it is the area of major growth in the future, and it will be one of our major focuses over the next few years.

You were named both president and chairman of Ford. Whose idea was it that you assume both titles? If Ford is deep in talent, why have one man perform two killer jobs?

It was the board's decision, after conversation with both Red and me. It was a mutual agreement. The event [Harold Poling's retirement] had been anticipated some time ago. Allan [Gilmour, 59, vice chairman, financial services and corporate staffs] and Lou [Ross, 61, vice chairman and chief technical officer] are both vice chairmen. Each has a big piece of the business reporting to him. This allows a single person to be in the middle, because we have a strong troika at the top.

I don't plan to kill myself, but I do plan to have a lean organization that's flatter at the top. We've been "destructuring" slowly and carefully and will continue to do so in the future to get increasingly more efficient. Maybe we'll name a president in the future, but there are no plans to do so at the moment.

Is Alex Trotman as anti-Japan and anti U.S.-Japan trade deficit as everyone else in Detroit?

I'm not anti-Japan or anti-Japanese at all. But I feel strong about the trade imbalance, and it's of vital importance to address the trade deficit. For every $1 billion in deficit, we lose 20,000 to 30,000 industrial jobs in America.

What I'm going to do somewhat differently is talk more about the loss of jobs from the deficit than the loss of dollars. To most people, when you talk in billions of dollars it's meaningless to them. But when you talk jobs and the loss of them, everyone understands.

Q: Within hours of being named to succeed Poling, you were criticized by the news media for driving company cars and not having bought a new car of your own for years, as well as for serving as both president and chairman. Are you prepared for the scrutiny that comes with serving at the top?

A: (Laughing) Absolutely. You have to take the rough with thsmooth. I don't expect everyone to treat me with kid gloves.

Q: Alex Trotman a 7 a.m.-to-7 p.m., seven-days-a-week typworker?

A: Yes, I put in long hours, travel a lot and have a lot of business functions to attend outside the office, which leaves little time for recreation. I like to spend time with my family when I can, and I enjoy doing things outside in the open air, like gardening, when I do get some time off. But this is a tough job. It's not a stroll through the park.

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