DETROIT — Days before his May 19 ouster as CEO of Ford Motor Co., Mark Fields was proposing to fire his top lieutenant, Joe Hinrichs, in an effort to relieve some of the pressure he was facing from a skeptical board of directors, 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.
Jim Hackett, the former head of furniture maker Steelcase and chairman of Ford Smart Mobility, was named Ford’s new CEO as part of a wide-ranging management shakeup.
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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 did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Ford said in a statement, “Joe is a critical part of our leadership team for taking the company forward, as he knows Ford inside and out and has led many parts of our business. We do not comment on rumor or speculation.”
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.
Part of that sales decline is due to a planned drop in fleet sales. Ford had front-loaded fleet sales at the beginning of last year, so this year’s comparisons are much lower.
In April, Ford reported first-quarter net income of $1.6 billion, down $900 million from a year earlier.