Ford CEO Candidate Tangled With Former CFO

Mark Fields, Ford Motor Co. (F)’s president of the Americas and a leading candidate to succeed Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally, nearly had a physical altercation with another top executive in 2006, according to “American Icon,” a new book on the automaker’s turnaround.

In July 2006, as collapsing truck and sport-utility vehicle sales were making Ford unprofitable, Fields and other top executives met at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan, to accelerate restructuring plans, wrote Bryce G. Hoffman, a reporter for the Detroit News, who said the automaker cooperated on the book, which goes on sale March 13.

Don Leclair, then Ford’s chief financial officer, insisted Fields cut the advertising budget for the “Bold Moves” campaign aimed at reversing the sales slide. Leclair had previously blocked attempts by Fields to offer lifetime warranties and carbon offsets for Ford vehicles as part of the ad campaign, deeming the moves too costly, Hoffman wrote.

At the museum meeting, Leclair said there was “no other alternative” to even deeper cuts for the ad campaign because of Ford’s widening financial crisis, which would lead to a loss of $12.6 billion in 2006.

“When you run the f--king business, you can do it,” Fields responded to Leclair, Hoffman wrote. “But you don’t run it. You’re the CFO. So, I’ll take your counsel, but that’s it.”

Leclair then shouted, “You’re going to do this,” Hoffman wrote, adding: Fields leapt out of his chair screaming, “I’m tired of this bulls---!”

Bill Ford Intervenes

Fields was “halfway across the table” when Bill Ford, then the automaker’s CEO, grabbed him, according to Hoffman. “Cut it out,” Ford said, according to Hoffman’s book.

Leclair, 60, retired from Ford in November 2008. He declined to comment through Ray Day, a company spokesman.

Hoffman said he could not reveal specific sources for the anecdote because he agreed not to indentify the people who shared the details, many of whom still work for Ford. When he uses direct quotations, as he did in this case, “the wording comes from the speaker, from another participant in that conversation, from contemporaneous notes or from a transcript,” Hoffman wrote in an author’s note in his book.

Ford would not comment directly on anecdotes in the book, said Karen Hampton, a company spokeswoman.

“As with any retelling of history, memories and accuracy differ from person to person -- and this account is no different,” Hampton said in an e-mailed statement. “We will let the book speak for itself.”

Outsider Hired

Around the time of this anecdote, Bill Ford, great-grandson of founder Henry Ford, was being pressured by some Ford board members to step aside, Hoffman wrote. Director Irv Hockaday, former head of Hallmark Cards Inc., advised Bill Ford to find a new CEO, Hoffman writes. Shortly after that, at a July board meeting, Ford asked the directors to replace him as CEO.

“This company means a lot to me. I have a lot tied up in it,” Ford told the board, according to Hoffman. “But the one thing I don’t is my ego.”

Two months later, Ford hired Mulally from Boeing Co. (BA) He engineered a turnaround at the automaker by focusing on the Ford brand, improving quality, globalizing operations and expanding the company’s lineup with fuel-efficient models like the Fiesta subcompact.

Ford reported its 11th consecutive profitable quarter Jan. 27, with net income of $13.6 billion, or $3.40 a share, boosted by a one-time tax gain of $12.4 billion. For all of 2011, Ford’s pretax operating profit was $8.8 billion, or $1.51 a share, up $463 million from the previous year.

Mulally, 66, has not said when he will retire and recently denied speculation that he would leave at the end of next year. Fields, 51, is viewed as the leading candidate to succeed Mulally, people familiar with the deliberations have said.

“I have no plans to retire,” Mulally said Feb. 9, while announcing the retirements of CFO Lewis Booth and Derrick Kuzak, the company’s product-development chief. “Our plan at Ford is to have a very strong succession plan for every position, including my own.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Keith Naughton in Southfield, Michigan, at knaughton3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net

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