In January, Ford Motor Co. abandoned plans to open a $1.6 million factory in Mexico, a move hailed by then President-elect Donald Trump as a vote of confidence in his promise to reverse the flow of U.S. manufacturing jobs to that country.
But on Monday, Ford’s newly named chief executive officer distanced himself from an administration marred by a steady stream of self-inflicted scandals and a failure to enact key parts of its policy agenda.
“I had nothing to do with the previous decisions on Mexico,” Jim Hackett, who previously served as a director on the board and led Ford’s autonomous car project, said at a press conference Monday morning. “We made that decision not for political reasons, but for business reasons, and those are still sound today.”
Hackett, 62, spent over two decades as chief executive of the office furniture giant Steelcase Inc. In 2011, he oversaw the closure of three factories in Michigan, Texas and Canada, and moved production to the company’s two plants in Mexico. At Ford, he said Mexico ― where the company is already expanding two plants ― would remain a manufacturing hub.
“We’re a global company,” he said. “We want to own our strategies about where we play and how we win. We’ll be producing product all over the world. We have to do that. The supply chains are designed in interactive ways that you can’t undo.”
The board blamed ousted CEO Mark Fields for putting the 114-year-old automaker on Trump’s radar by announcing plans to move production on the Ford Focus from Michigan to San Luis Potosí last year. His failure to predict and prevent Trump from dragging Ford into the political spotlight factored heavily into the decision to fire Fields, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Ford declined to comment on the role politics played in determining Fields’ fate, but said in a statement that the company required change.
“Given the changes in competition, technology and consumer expectations, Ford’s board determined that the company needed a different kind of leadership to develop the culture, further strengthen the core automotive business and accelerate a strategic shift to capitalize on emerging opportunities,” Alan Hall, a Ford spokesman, told HuffPost in an email. “The statement provided clearly communicates the reasons for the board decision.”
Trump vowed to revive American manufacturing by slashing regulations and reworking trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, that encourage U.S. companies to shift production to Mexico, where labor costs are lower. He kicked off the process before he took office, striking a much-ballyhooed deal with the air conditioner maker Carrier to keep a factory slated for closure in Indiana. He did so by offering lavish tax breaks and federal contracts to United Technologies, Carrier’s parent company.
Trump touted Ford’s announcement in January as yet another win for his manufacturing agenda, despite Fields’ insistence that politics had little to do with the decision. For months after, crediting Trump for already-planned investments in U.S. operations became a routine part of many large companies’ PR strategies, giving the new president fodder for boastful pronouncements on Twitter.
But confidence that such a piecemeal approach would give way to concrete policy change has faltered as the administration stumbles from one political crisis to the next, making it difficult to forge ahead with a comprehensive lawmaking agenda. Last week alone, the White House struggled to stave off daily reports of potentially illegal moves by Trump to squelch an investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia’s alleged hacking of his rivals in the Democratic National Committee.
Ford’s sudden replacement of its chief executive came as a surprise to most, despite a rough few months for the Detroit automaker. Chairman Bill Ford said he had not briefed the president, who traveled from Saudi Arabia to Israel on Monday morning, about the decision.
Instead, Ford held a press conference to announce the new chief. The chairman said he scheduled a call with Vice President Mike Pence sometime after.
Ford’s stock price rose nearly 2 percent on Monday morning.
This article has been updated with comments from a Ford spokesman.
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