Ford CEO Decision-Making 'Shot Clock' Needed to Accelerate Plans

By Christina Rogers Features Dow Jones Newswires

Ford Motor Co.'s new Chief Executive Jim Hackett is enforcing a "shot clock" on lingering decisions at the auto maker to put plans into action faster and regain competitive footing in vital segments of the car business.

Continue Reading Below

Mr. Hackett, speaking to analysts this week, rolled out the shot-clock idea -- which is borrowed from a rule employed in basketball to quicken the pace of the game -- as part of his agenda for the first 100 days in a job he took over in May. He spoke Thursday with Wall Street analysts, the first such meeting for Ford's new chief as he confronts an underperforming stock price.

The company has been widely criticized for appearing indecisive on important technology bets, including self-driving cars or electric vehicles.

In addition to setting firmer deadlines on decisions, Mr. Hackett said he plans to focus on costs, according to analysts' reports recounting the event. He wants to move faster to target weaknesses in the business, such as slumping U.S. sedan sales.

Mr. Hackett succeeded former CEO Mark Fields as Ford and other conventional auto makers scramble to keep pace with tech giants edging in on the car business, including Alphabet Inc., Intel Corp. and Apple Inc., and electric auto maker Tesla Inc. Ford is now investing in autonomous-vehicle research, including taking financial stakes in startups, and is spending more than $4 billion to improve its electric-car lineup. Mr. Hackett signaled an openness to revisit the strategy he inherited from Mr. Fields, the analysts said.

The CEO change, coming as Ford's stock traded about 40% below when Mr. Fields became chief in 2014, is seen as an attempt to fix the 114-year-old company's culture.

Continue Reading Below

"Mr. Hackett acknowledged that past slow decision-making -- sometimes caused by confusion over 'who was in charge' within newer efforts -- has been an issue at Ford," said Itay Michaeli, an analyst with Citigroup.

He also talked about his belief "that you can have a meeting with just three people in the room," emphasizing that this is at times sufficient to turn a plan into action, and expressed "astonishment" at the amount of capital the industry requires, J.P. Morgan analyst Ryan Brinkman said in a note.

Mr. Hackett acknowledged being behind in certain areas, such as vehicle connectivity, Mr. Michaeli wrote in a research note.

The new CEO pointed to other areas where Ford could be leaner, calling out the human-resources department. He told analysts that department was "out-sized" relative to the size of the organization, according Mr. Brinkman.

A Ford spokesman confirmed the meeting with analysts took place.

In emerging technologies, Mr. Hackett appeared to play down the importance of rolling out a fully autonomous vehicle by 2021 -- a target set by his predecessor -- and analysts "sensed clear skepticism that Ford somehow 'needs' to partner to access the car of the future," Mr. Michaeli said.

Write to Christina Rogers at christina.rogers@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 30, 2017 10:21 ET (14:21 GMT)