Ford bloated at top, VP says

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September 19, 2006|By Sarah A. Webster | Sarah A. Webster,Detroit Free Press

DETROIT -- Management has become too bloated at Ford Motor Co. and must be streamlined to get 103-year-old automaker back on its feet, departing Ford executive Anne Stevens said in an interview.

"The company has too many layers, the company is too bureaucratic, and it takes too long to get things done," said Stevens, who is retiring from her post as Ford's chief operating officer for the Americas and executive vice president on Oct 1.

Earlier this year, Stevens said, she decided that her job, which was created for her just last October, was among those that should be cut. The position had earned her the title as most powerful woman in the car business.

"I just don't think I could look anyone in the face with this challenge of right-sizing, restructuring, while I knew I consumed a position that was a second layer," she said.

The interview with Stevens at her farmhouse in Ypsilanti, Mich., came Sunday, two days after Ford announced a retooled restructuring plan that will cut 30,000 hourly jobs and the equivalent of 14,000 salaried jobs. The plan will also close 16 plants by 2012.

To achieve the cuts, Ford is offering buyouts to the 75,000 workers represented by the United Auto Workers. The automaker also said it might resort to layoffs for some of the white-collar cuts.

Stevens believes her impending departure, along with the simultaneous retirement of David T. Szczupak, Ford's group vice president of manufacturing in the Americas, sends the right signal: "that Ford is really serious about flattening the structure."

Stevens has been seeking a chief executive job with other companies, but doesn't have a job lined up yet. So she said her decision to go now was, in part, a symbolic gesture of shared sacrifice.

"It's the right thing for the company, to flatten this bureaucratic organization, and it's the right thing for me," she said. "It's going to be a lot easier for me to get a CEO job at age 57 than it is to get one at age 60. So the time is right, for both of us."

Ford's job and plant cuts, as well as its timetable for executing them, are more aggressive than they were when the reorganization was first announced in January, before sales of pickup trucks hit the skids and sent Ford back to the drawing board. Ford posted a $1.4 billion loss in the first half of the year, and new car and truck sales were down 9.9 percent through August.

Stevens' job as chief operating officer, which followed her 16 years in Ford's engineering, manufacturing and management ranks, put her on the front lines of crafting both plans.

Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, has led that team effort. He said he would assume Stevens' duties.

Echoing similar remarks Fields made in recent days, Stevens said one of the most important tasks Ford must accomplish is re-engineering and streamlining the way work is done as a third of the company's white-collar work force leaves voluntarily or is laid off.

Does she think that Ford will have to alter its six levels of leadership - a structure that defined pay within Ford?

"I just don't think you can look at all the work that's going to have to be done in the salaried ranks and the hourly ranks and not address the leadership levels," she said. "I feel very strongly about that."

Fields said Stevens is leaving the company on good terms.

And Stevens had some advice for workers confronted with change at Ford.

"I think people need to be very confident in their own skills and their own ability and capability," she said. "They need to reflect on their wonderful experience they have at Ford, whether they are going to be part of the Ford family in the future or pursue the next chapter in that book."

In an interview in April, Stevens said it would be easy to stay at Ford. But she knew in her heart she wanted to be a CEO someday, and that might not happen at Ford with a few younger people ahead of her in line.

"If it's not at Ford, will it be somewhere else? Yeah," she said last spring. "I want to run something myself someday. ... I have so many interests."

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