DETROIT — Former Ford CEO Mark Fields intended to fire top lieutenant Joe Hinrichs in an effort to relieve pressure Fields was facing from the board in the days before his ouster on May 19, Automotive News has learned.
Fields intended to get approval from the board for his decision to fire Hinrichs during the week of May 14, sources said.
Fields’ plan backfired, however, when the board decided instead to part ways with him and communications chief Ray Day, following a Friday, May 19, meeting. Instead of a pink slip, Hinrichs was given a promotion to the newly created position of president of global operations, in charge of Ford’s global product development; manufacturing and labor affairs, among other things.
Hinrichs was conspicuously missing in a round of retention bonuses the company paid out to top executives on Wednesday, May 17, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
But Hinrichs was added to the list the following week, getting a $5 million stock bonus.
Fields faced increased scrutiny during meetings with Ford’s board of directors ahead of the company’s annual shareholders meeting on May 11. The board had grown impatient with Fields’ strategy for the future and irritated with the automaker’s sluggish stock price, which had fallen nearly 40 percent since he took over in July 2014.
Fields believed he could deflect pressure from himself and pacify the board by ousting Hinrichs, the sources said.
Fields and Ford did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Hinrichs, 50, had been president of the Americas since December 2012. Since he took over, the company earned about $38 billion in North America, which represented 92 percent of its total pretax profits during that period.
He also oversaw the successful redesign of Ford’s best-selling vehicle, its profit-generating F-series pickup.
However, U.S. sales are down 5.1 percent through April, more than double the industry decline as the industry plateaus. The automaker has lost four-tenths of a percentage point of market share during that same stretch.
In April, Ford reported first-quarter net income of $1.6 billion, down $900 million from a year earlier.