Ford Announces More Management Changes--3rd Update

By Christina Rogers and Tim Higgins Features Dow Jones Newswires

Ford Motor Co. has wooed back a senior engineer who left the auto maker to develop autonomous vehicles at Uber Technologies Inc., underscoring the Motor City auto maker's determination under new leadership to wrest back the lead from Silicon Valley on new technologies.

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Sherif Marakby returns to Ford as vice president responsible for the company's self-driving and electric-car businesses, the auto maker said Thursday as it announced a raft of top management changes under new CEO Jim Hackett.

In this new role, Mr. Marakby will oversee companywide profits and losses for these business lines, part of a broader effort by Ford to highlight for investors the earnings potential of the company's emerging technologies.

Mr. Marakby's departure from Ford in 2016 for Uber was seen as a stark example of traditional auto makers losing top talent to Silicon Valley racing to develop robot cars. The promise of autonomous vehicles, though still unproven, threatens to upend the estimated $2 trillion of annual revenue tied to the automotive industry in the U.S.

His return to Ford is a symbolic victory, and signals an effort by Mr. Hackett to install a prominent engineer into a key role designed to bridge various departments and execute its vision for self-driving cars.

Ford also announced Thursday that product and technical chief Raj Nair will take over North American operations, a region responsible for nearly 90% of the company's profits, and Steven Armstrong, Europe's operating chief, will be elevated to run the region, replacing Jim Farley, who was named the new global markets president Monday.

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The 114-year-old auto maker announced earlier this year plans to invest $1 billion into startup Argo AI that was co-founded by Bryan Salesky, a leader among autonomous development from Alphabet Inc. Ford has targeted putting an autonomous vehicle for commercial use on the road in 2021.

"The problem was that there was no one to communicate how Argo could evolve into a revenue stream for Ford," said Dave Sullivan, an analyst for consultancy AutoPacific. "Marakby will have to work on communicating on all of the items Ford has invested in since he was last there in regards to how they can translate into revenue in the future."

Mr. Marakby wasn't available for comment.

Mr. Marakby's tenure at Uber should have given him insight into how some of the leading developers of self-driving cars work, and could help him smooth a divide between the corporate suite in Dearborn, Mich., and the upstart tech culture at Argo AI.

As Argo has beefed up hiring, several people have come from the ranks of Uber, especially its Pittsburgh operations, according to LinkedIn bios. Argo's co-founder and chief operating officer, Peter Rander, for example, worked at Uber to bring out the ride-hailing company's self-driving test vehicles.

Mr. Marakby's departure from Uber in April came as the company's autonomous-vehicle program became shrouded in trade-secret theft allegations from Google parent Alphabet Inc. Uber is contesting the lawsuit, which alleges the company conspired with a former Google engineer, Anthony Levandowski, to steal self-driving car secrets to jump-start its own efforts. Mr. Levandowski, who hasn't commented about the allegations, has since stepped aside as head of Uber's autonomous-vehicle program, putting its future in doubt.

As Detroit and Silicon Valley race to develop technology to make self-driving vehicles, they are clashing over hiring the kinds of people who can do this work -- especially among the small pool of engineers and programmers with expertise in areas of computer vision and machine learning. "There are more jobs for those people than there are people who can do them," Max Brown, co-founder of Silicon Beach Talent, a recruiting firm that specializes in automotive-tech hiring. Sebastian Thrun, the so-called Godfather of Google's self-driving car project, created a stir when last fall he told Recode that the going rate for self-driving talent is $10 million per person.

The battle is so fierce engineers who have the words "autonomous vehicle" anywhere on their LinkedIn page will typically receive four to five emails a week from recruiters trying to lure them away, said one engineer working in this space.

Among other moves Thursday, longtime marketing executive Peter Fleet will take over Asia-Pacific operations, a vital region including China, from Dave Schoch, who is retiring after 40 years. Purchasing chief Hau Thai-Tang will add global product development to his role, the company said.

The changes highlight how Mr. Hackett, less than a week in the new job, is restructuring the management team to be more agile with him having fewer direct reports than his predecessor. Many of these executives will now report to either Mr. Farley, or Joe Hinrichs, Ford's new global operations chief.

In naming Mr. Hackett to the top job, Ford Chairman Bill Ford has emphasized the need to move faster and make harder decisions if the 114-year-old auto makers is to compete in a quickly evolving business facing encroachment from new tech rivals in Silicon Valley.

"The clock speed at which the world is moving and our competitors are working really requires us to make decisions faster," Mr. Ford said, speaking to reporters earlier this week.

Mr. Ford is counting on Mr. Hackett, a former office-furniture executive with a record for turning around ailing organizations, to sharpen the company's strategy and re-energize its workforce amid shrinking profits and plateauing U.S. sales volumes.

Write to Christina Rogers at christina.rogers@wsj.com and Tim Higgins at Tim.Higgins@WSJ.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 25, 2017 18:07 ET (22:07 GMT)