Not much similarity, you may think, between Mark Fields – who has today been removed as Ford CEO – and David Moyes, in recent years a serially unsuccessful football league manager. But over the past few years both men have had almost exactly the same career experience.
Moyes famously took over Manchester United straight after Sir Alex Ferguson’s 27-year train of unrestrained success, and failed to measure up. Fields took the wheel at Ford from Alan Mulally, the ex-Boeing chief who achieved national treasure status in the US snatching the Blue Oval from the jaws of bankruptcy, but on his three-year watch the value of the company’s shares dived 40%.
The experience of Fields and Moyes underscores the extreme career risk many a successor runs when following a high achiever who is also a character. Their story shows that big businesses tend to thrive when, as well as making good decisions, their leaders are dominant, larger-than-life characters.
Fields worked well with Mulally – and was even credited with helping invent Mulally’s ‘One Ford’ mantra that stripped away attention-sapping activities that didn’t fit the brand's core philosophy – but he always had trouble coming across as the decisive go-getter who knew by instinct what was next for Ford.
What is more, he never quite managed to convince people that he loved or knew much about the product; I remember thinking this in interviews years ago on our side of the Pond. Nice guy, everyone said, but what’s he for? Now come reports that the Ford board is “alarmed at the deterioration of Ford’s business”, even though it continues to earn big-time from its F150 cash-cow. Fields, insiders suggest, has been spending big-time on autonomy and electrification, while the core business drifts.