Apr 20, 2008

Farley's move from Toyota looks good to Ford dealers

First, understand that my husband Mike took a Ford early retirement buyout and our pension and healthcare insurance benefits depend on the future of the company. However good Fancy Feast is, I don't want to be eating cat food because all my money went to buy medication. After all these buyouts, there are a lot of us out here who will be up s**t creek -- and too old to do much about it -- if Ford can't turn around.

So I've got personal reasons for watching what happens under Alan Mulally, and now Jim Farley, the marketing guy hired away from Toyota. Obviously, no matter how much money you save through lean, you've got to sell cars. They have to be appealing enough to get customers interested. I've been bored to death by our choices of Ford products to buy -- Ford employees can't drive competitors' cars to work and expect to do well. We don't get the great deals you might think we do - the employee discount on the smaller cars we favor are meager, because the profit margins are so slim.

Today's New York Times ("A Star at Toyota, a Believer at Ford") profiled Farley as he led a four-day summit of dealers and top executives and it's more than reassuring. I'm starting to feel some hope. Since Bill Ford hired Mulally, I've been waiting to see what kinds of people he'd bring in to breathe new life into the company. (I've got a Google news alert with the words "mulally hire" so I can hear when there was news on that front.)

Dealers have a right to be skeptical and angry. Product that won't sell. Inventory forced on them. A 1970s ordering process that requires all sorts of workarounds. Tepid ad campaigns. Lookalike vehicles.

The dealers hammered the execs. But at the end of the conference, Farley stood before 1,400 of them, and said, "The work here is simply more important than the work I was doing at Toyota." And the article tells why he'd say that. He got a standing ovation.

I won't even try to list all the things Farley has said and done. The article does it better. At heart, he's a Ford guy. A grandfather who worked at the Ford Rouge River plant in Dearborn, and later became a Ford dealer. His first car was a classic 1966 black Mustang that he immediately drove from California to Detroit - that's what Detroiters do, drive cross-country. I need to know whether he spent a lot of time taking his car apart on his driveway, if I'm going to see him as a Detroit kind of guy. He'd need to know what it's like to have grease under his fingernails.

I'm cautious, but may be starting to be a believer that Farley is a believer in Ford, as well as experienced in understanding problems and finding solutions through people and product. A lot depends on him. He's at the end of the company that makes it or breaks it - next to the customer. Watch closely.

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