Chairman Bill Ford Talks about Jac Nasser

It would be tough to find anyone who has a more profound interest in Ford's future than the man whose name is on the door, Chairman William C. Ford Jr. To see out how he feels about the changes new CEO Jacques A. Nasser is making to prepare the giant carmaker for the next century, Business Week Detroit Bureau Chief Katie Kerwin chatted with the Ford on Sept. 14. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: So how is your new CEO doing?
Jac's done a fabulous job. It's going to be some time yet before we know if our strategy is successful. [But] I've got full confidence in Jac. As the company's largest owner, I love his emphasis on shareholder value.

Q: Is Nasser too insulated from candid criticism from other Ford managers?
It's rare that a CEO gets honest feedback from subordinates. Jac loves the honest debate. He really respects people with strong opinions. He's energized by intellectual debates.

Q: Are you worried that some of his strategies are risky?
Any time you enact change, there's risk. Our strategy entails a lot of risk: the people we're bringing in, the new businesses... But the biggest risk would have been to stand pat and do nothing.

This is one thing the board and I are particularly aware of. We accept the risk and understand that everything we try may not work. But we think the strategy is sound.

Q: As a member of the Ford family and a longtime shareholder, you must remember some of Ford's disastrous diversification efforts of the past. How is this different?
Anything new you enter, you'd better think through carefully... History has showed we weren't successful in [diversifying into aerospace, banking, and other nonauto fields. But what Nasser is doing now] is based on not straying too far from what we know well how to do. I think this is the right way to go. We're staying close to our core business and to our traditional customer.

As the largest owner of the company and someone whose family's -- whose children and grandchildren's -- future is tied to the company, I'm very comfortable with this.

Q: Ford has traditionally enjoyed Detroit's best relations with the United Auto Workers, but current negotiations to renew the company's national agreement with the UAW have been unusually rocky. Does this signal a long-term shift?
We've had a remarkably good relationship with the UAW over the past 20 years, and we've worked hard to get there. I still believe we have a fundamentally sound relationship with the UAW.

Q: Ford's plans to spin off its Visteon parts group is behind much of the friction. When General Motors spun off its Delphi Automotive Systems Group, many Delphi workers couldn't wait to get away from GM. Is the strong attachment of Visteon workers to Ford that's causing some of the trouble?
I think that speaks [well of] our culture that people want to remain part of it. It's a reflection of the sense that Ford Motor is a good place to belong to.

A lot of the angst is from the uncertainty of the situation. Once that settles down, I think everyone will be more comfortable. A lot of people are in limbo now, and that's an uncomfortable place to be.

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Remaking Ford

COVER IMAGE: Remaking Ford

TABLE: Nasser's Game Plan

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PHOTO: 2001 Ford F-150 SuperCrew Truck

PHOTO: Ford's Jaguar S-Type

CHART: Ford's Stock Leads the Pack and Profits Are Booming...

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Why the Unions Are Stirred Up

Europe: Where Ford Needs to Step on the Gas

CHART: Ford Fades Out

ONLINE ORIGINAL: Chairman Bill Ford Talks about Jac Nasser

ONLINE ORIGINAL: Jac Nasser: 'In the Past, We Tried to Do Too Much'

ONLINE ORIGINAL: Can Nasser Get Ford's Stock onto a Smoother Road?

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