No. 157: 3AMReads: What Will Ford’s New CEO Do About Africa?

Apologies for missing yesterday’s post. My body is making it clear I need to sleep more.

The big market news yesterday was Ford CEO Mark Fields retiring, making room for Jim Hackett to take over at the home of America’s best selling vehicle. The news was surprising because Fields had done a pretty good job at Ford. Large profit margins. Revamping the technology behind vehicles like the Ford F-150. Further, he had only been there three years – not very long.

Ford Chairman Bill Ford cited the company’s need for a transformational leader as the reason for the change in leadership in light of the rapidly changing technology landscape as the specter of autonomous vehicles comes into clearer view. So far, it appears Ford has been behind the curve on that. Fields acknowledged himself that he didn’t move as quickly as he needed to. Jim Hackett oversaw Ford’s Smart Mobility division and has a reputation for moving quickly and as a blunt-talking visionary.

One could argue that Bill Ford should have seen the need for this transformational leader before giving Mark Fields the job. Ford gave a TED talk on the vision he had for the future of vehicle transportation well before hiring Fields. Regardless, Hackett is the man now. What does that mean for the company’s business in Africa?

I should start with the reality that Ford’s Africa business is tiny. Across the Middle East and Africa, Ford employs 3,000, compared to the 96,000 in the US alone. The company’s MEA business struggled last, though the company pins that on distribution issues in the Middle East.

Considering the amount of work Ford has to do to catch up in the mobility race, I don’t know that one could make the business case for investing resources in the company’s Africa business.

Further, Hackett doesn’t have the international purview Mark Fields did. Fields spent decades leading Ford’s business around the world. As CEO, Fields oversaw the  creation of Ford’s MEA business unit in order to dedicate resources to the region in 2014. A year later, Ford announced that it would assemble Ford Rangers in Nigeria.  Then the company announced a $170M investment in its South Africa business last year.  As far as I can tell, Hackett’s entire career has been in the Midwest – Steelcase, University of Michigan, Ford, etc. So, who knows how much attention Hackett would pay to a small operation like what Ford has in Africa.

So, take this context, combine it with last week’s news of GM selling its South Africa business, take a couple leaps in logic and you arrive at my concern that Ford could pull out its Africa bu

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