The Peanut Gallery Wins Battle With Ford's Fields

Posted by: David Kiley on January 18, 2007

I hate it when tree watchers win. What do I mean? People who are so intent on staring at the bark on a tree they can’t see that the whole forest is on fire.

Today we learn that Ford president of the Americas Mark Fields caved into criticism from dealers, retirees and some columnists jumping on the burning band wagon that he takes a corporate plane back and forth to his home in Florida on the weekends to see his family.

Fields’s total take in 2005 was $3.2 million, including a $1 million retention bonus to take the job in North America. He was previously head of Ford’s European and the Premier Automotive Group.

In the whole scheme of things, the cost is inconsequential to Ford. The company could pay for it if they stopped providing pads and pens to reporters at media events, and made them bring their own. But it bothered Ford’s backward looking constituencies to no end. The guy negotiated it into his contract as part of his compensation. God knows his options aren’t worth anything.

The guy wanted the perq for a very good reason…to see his family, who lives in Florida, each weekend without having to suffer the inevitable delays connected with Northwest Airlines, and having to burn two hours before the flight takes off…if it takes off. He, understandably, lives in Michigan during the week.

As one Ford official told me today…”Once it became an issue raised by dealers and local media, the ‘optics’ on it were all wrong.” Whatever. This is right up there with right wing blow-hards making hay for days on end out of John Kerry driving an SUV at the same time he is talking about a global warming agenda. It’s so not the point.

Fields probably did the right thing by doing away with the matter so it wouldn’t distract the company any longer. But why this issue rose to the level of being the third-highest item on the WSJ.com home page today is beyond me. It’s madness, especially when there are so many other major issues confronting the company; like its survival.

Fortunately, I don’t watch local Detroit TV news (I didn’t watch it in New York either when I lived there for the same reason…it’s lame), so I won’t have to endure the cheesy stand-ups next to the airport with local media claiming victory that their reporting pressured Ford to make Fields take his shoes off at security with the rest of us.

Next up….will Ford cave to the American Family Association, which continues to boycott Ford for advertising in gay media, and sends out inane and tedious press releases claiming their boycott has been a key driver in Ford’s market share decline?

God help us.

Reader Comments

Brendan Moore

January 18, 2007 4:16 PM

I agree with your point of view about the expense of the corporate jet for Mark Fields. He negotiated it as part of his compensation, and it is inconsequential in the aggregate. I may have issues with Mark Fields' job performance in the last 12 months, but all of this sound and fury over the jet travel means nothing in terms of his actions regarding Ford's turnaround efforts. Frankly, it's just stupid chatter from my perspective.

Brendan Moore, Autosavant.net

Sherman Lin

January 19, 2007 10:52 AM

Your analysis hits the nail on the head. When will the media, and the critics realize that top notch management talent that proves its worth in results cannot be had for cheap. Does the media and the critics think that Toyota or Honda would not have snatched up a prize like Mr.Fields and paid him every penny and more?

Oh wait they wouldn’t and they actually have better managers who are paid considerably less. Oh never mind.

The truth is your only valid argument is that he did negotiate that benefit. However don’t for one minute think that the criticisms are unfair or not valid or more importantly not news. During a time of enormous cutbacks and facing a reticent union, which will undoubtedly be asked to make concessions on their previously negotiated benefits pay etc, it is not unreasonable to expect that such perks for execs whether negotiated or not would be a top news story. I do agree that perhaps there might be a better story that the media critics and the dealers etc should have covered. That being the dismal performance of Detroit’s top auto managers and the apparent absolute lack of any accountability. If they want top level pay then deliver top level performance otherwise they should be replaced

HEARING POT CALLING KETTLE BLACK

January 19, 2007 12:37 PM

THE POINT IS THAT FIELDS IS NOT EARNING HIS PAY, LET ALONE ANY PERQS. HE IS NOT DOING A GOOD JOB. HE WAS NOT SUCCESSFUL AT FORD EUROPE AND PREMIERE AUTO GROUP, SO HE WAS PROMOTED TO FORD NORTH AMERICA. HE CONTINUES TO BE A FAILURE.

HE IS PART OF THE BIG GROUP OF INCOMPETENT, UNTALENTED MANAGEMENT.

YOU ARE THE POT CALLING THE KETTLE BLACK: YOUR ARTICLES ARE NO BETTER THAN THOSE YOU CRITICIZE.

THE REALITY IS THE FORD MOTOR IS FINISHED. IT WILL CONTINUE TO LOSE MONEY AND MARKET SHARE, GO INTO BANKRUPTCY AND BE LIQUIDATED.

THE TROUBLE WITH JOURNALISTS TODAY IS THAT NONE OF THEM WRITE HARD HITTING PIECES FILLED WITH TRUTH. THEY ONLY WRITE ENTERTAINMENT.

Jeremy Cato

January 19, 2007 12:39 PM

Hey, David: I agree with you. Mark Fields' use of the corporate jet is so not the point. But his weekly commute to Florida and back certainly is. Leaders lead by example and the example he has set is obvious: If you can, get out of Detroit where things are tough and dirty and unpleasant. At the very least get your family out so they can be protected from the horrors of an industry and an economy struggling to fix itself. (Note to Fritz Henderson at GM: Ditto.) Look, Churchill didn't run away from London during the blitz and neither did England's King and Queen. They lived it. Patton was out directing tank traffic on the road to the Battle of the Bulge and when he was fighting Rommel in the desert he didn't commute from the safer beaches in Gibralter. The best generals know that they must live and understand the life of a foot soldier. You, Mark Fields and Fritz Henderson apparently don't get that. Too bad. This is symptomatic of a larger problem but that's a topic for another discussion.

WHY

January 19, 2007 2:30 PM

DOES THE COMMENTS PAGE WORK?

Jerry

January 19, 2007 9:45 PM

I agree that Mr. Fields is completely entitled to use Ford's aircraft.

However, it's fascinating to see how you turn a column on business issues into a political statement. These two issues aren't vaguely similar.

On the one-hand, you have a corporation that allows an executive to use the corporate jet every weekend for personal purposes. To some, this doesn't seem quite right and it is perfectly okay to debate the issues. Again, I think Mr. Fields should continue to use the aircraft.

On the other hand you have an elected official running around the country touting dubious 'facts' in an attempt to alter citizen's personal life-styles (while making no change in his own) all done while attacking his political opponents over the issue. And yet, you seem to think no one in the opposition should take note of the hypocrisy in the situation. If someone does so, then you label them 'right wing blowhards'. It appears as if your personal politcs are the real problem.

As an aside to the above, if you will remember, John Kerry stated that he did not own an SUV and then when it came out that he owned several, he tried to say that the SUVs were not in his name, they were titled to the family.

It seems to me that if you can't tell the difference between the activities of elected officials and private citizens, then perhaps you should stick to the subject of the column - which by the way, was the point of reading the column in the first place.

M

January 21, 2007 9:46 AM

NITWIT:

A) TO IGNORE THIS INAPPROPRIATE (IF CONTRACTUALLY NEGOTIATED) WASTE OF $ WOULD BE WORSE THAN MAKING A STINK ABOUT IT WHEN 1/3 SALARIED "GOT TO GO" & THE BABY'S BEING DISCARDED WITH BATH WATER.

B) FORD SHOULD HEED THE AFA. IT'S THOSE SORT OF FOLKS WHO BUY THEIR STUFF. PC IS FOR JOURNALISTS, NOT FOR THOSE FIGHTING FOR SURVIVAL.

C) I'M THE ONLY ONE FOOL ENOUGH TO COMMENT ON YOUR FOOLISH TAKE. GO FIGUE.

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