AN's Jeanes Out To Lunch Over Mark Fields' Travel

Talk about focusing on the trees so much you lose sight of the forest…Okay, the forest is on fire…okay….enough with the metaphors….

I was just reading William Jeanes’ rant in this week’s Automotive News about the fact that Ford President of the Americas Mark Fields jets home to Florida on the weekends at company expense.

In a word…oy. This is the sort of flame-up that could only take place in Detroit. The truth is that Fields jets home on the weekends in a company provided Gulfstream. Jeanes is miffed that Fields and his family aren’t residing in Bloomfield Hills or Ann Arbor. He’d be showing greater leadership, claims Jeanes, if he had a Michigan address. Meantime, Ford is spending a million or so bucks a year by estimates to taxi Fields at the same time it’s buying out tens of thousands of employees. Zzzzzzzzzz.

This story first flared up with a “report” by the ABC affiliate in Detroit, which, I might add, got the numbers wrong when they reported it. Fields has, in recent years, lived in Japan and London. His family, which includes school-age kids, has had to relocate a few times. It’s hard on a family. And they weren’t keen to live in Detroit suburbia when Fields got recalled to Dearborn. The family has roots in the Miami area, and roots, the last time I checked, were important to families.

I’ve spent enough time talking to Fields over the last few years and observing Ford to form a conclusion that Fields’ commuting is not compromising his commitment to his job at Ford. I can, and have, certainly questioned some of his judgments. But it’s hard to know how much of what Fields has been doing has been altered or sidetracked, first by chairman Bill Ford and now by CEO Alan Mulally. What I do know is that Fields is the only executive in authority at Ford who has a clue about marketing, the importance of proper and consistent brand management, and advertising. He’s the guy who has been saying “No” to some of the Ford hands who grew up learning from Jim Padilla, Nick Scheele, David Thursfield, on and on….Take him out of the mix right now, and the picture gets even worse than it is now in a hurry. He has other responsibilities, but I’ll just mention marketing for now.

Fields got $3.2 million in 2005 plus a $1 million retention bonus, that Jeanes calls “Lavish.” Check around. When a company’s stock is in a slide’s like Ford’s, I’m thinking Fields hasn’t made a whole lot of money on options lately. $3.2 million is a lot to a journalist. But in the world of white collar salaries today, it’s competitive given the task at hand for Ford and Fields, and the position of Ford in the corporate landscape.

From Jeanes: “It is distressing to watch Ford lay off innocent people while Fields does his best to make Nero look like a popualist.” I’m surprised Jeanes didn’t write “whilst.”

What did I miss here? The Ford buybacks are offering workers big lump sum buyouts and/or education stipends. And as for innocents…if we are talking about the union, let’s also talk about the infamous job banks—aptly name since it is a legion of people who collect salaries from Ford like the company was an endless ATM machine for doing such things as washing cars for non-profit organziations. Let’s talk about absentee rates at plants. This is a good union with lots of good union workers, but it’s a union organization that, at times, seems to think companies owe jobs and cushy retirements to people. That’s just not the world I live in. That’s over.

So, I’m not sure “layoff” is the right terms these days.

The whole tone of Jeanes’ article is pretty 1977 if you ask me. Fields, respect him or not, is an executive that could be working elsewhere, probably for more money. Ford has decided, rightly or wrongly, that they want him on the team leading the turnaround. That means they have to pay the guy a competitive compensation package. And if the guy’s family prefers South Florida to Detroit, and if he is willing to make the sacrifice of not being with his family Monday-Friday, this seems like a pretty small glass of beer to be wining about.

Bash the guy if you disagree with the changes and strategies he’s putting into place. But don’t bash the guy because he’s trying to do what’s best for his family, including hold it together during a pretty stressful time in the guy’s career.