| turning a new leaf: The Ford Motor Company’s assembly plant in Edison, New Jersey (AFP)
Dearborn, Sept. 5: Few managers are better cast in the role of fixer than David W. Thursfield, the most intense Ford Motor executive this side of Jacques Nasser, the deposed chief executive. Thursfield’s steel blue eyes rarely blink, and his voice is so soft that at times it barely registers above a mumble.
Yet he has listeners rapt, from Wall Street to Detroit. Ford, which lost $ 5.5 billion last year, concedes that its turnaround is behind schedule, and it increasingly appears to be Thursfield’s job to change that.
Last month, William Clay Ford Jr., the company’s chairman and chief executive, heaped two big new assignments on the 56-year-old Thursfield.
Already the chairman and chief executive of Ford of Europe, he became Ford’s group vice-president for international operations, a job that has him overseeing the company’s Asia Pacific and South American operations, as well.
And as if three quarters of the globe were not responsibility enough, Thursfield was also named chief of global purchasing operations for all of Ford.
That is a crucial job in a company whose variable costs—the costs of the parts and processes used to build cars, beyond such fixed costs as pay, pensions and factory upkeep—now are sharply higher than those of not just the Japanese but also General Motors.
Already, Thursfield’s bevy of jobs has led to speculation that he will find himself bumping up against Nicholas V. Scheele, the company’s chief operating officer and Ford’s top deputy.
Certainly, the two have different personalities. Scheele, 58, is as affable as Thursfield is reserved. Scheele was formerly Thursfield’s boss in Europe, and executives and analysts close to the company say that the two men, both British, had their differences.
Thursfield, known to arrive at the office some days by 5:15 a.m., was said to be frustrated with the pace of cost cutting under Scheele, and now they are teamed in that task again, on a global scale.
Ford of Europe is one of the company’s few successes, a division actually making money that has cut $ 1.5 billion in costs since 2000. And so the question, as Thursfield settles into his new office here, is whether the two men who share credit for the European turnaround are locked in a tug-of-war over righting the rest of Ford. “That’s a provocative question,” Thursfield said in an interview this week. “Nick and I did the job in Europe.
I participated in the development of the strategy and, more importantly, the implementation of the strategy in my role as president over there. In that regard, Nick and I got on very well together. We played to each other’s strengths enormously.”
In Dearborn, he continued: “I see my role as helping North America. I don’t have direct responsibility but I have a lot of input.”
Scheele said on Wednesday that it was his idea to bring Thursfield to America—the two discussed it last November over dinner—and that he welcomed the help.