were at a Crossroads - Bill Ford

By: Lauren Woods

William Clay "Bill" Ford Jr., the Ford Motor Co.'s chairman of the board of directors, averted chides from two vocal shareholders at Ford Motor Co.'s annual meeting, pledging that "The ongoing success of Ford Motor Co. is my life's work."

During the annual meeting with the company's stockholders held at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, Del., several persistent critics of the automaker lashed out at the chairman about his re-election to the board of directors, citing the company's recent troubles. "You are a failure, not a success. You are a loser, not a winner," said Ford retiree and shareholder Sam Joanette. The Miami Beach, Fla., man is a longtime critic of Ford.

Bill Ford Jr., the great-grandson of Henry Ford, served as the President, Chief Executive Officer, and Chief Operating Officer of the company until turning over those roles to Boeing executive Alan Mulally in September 2006. Mulally was credited with reviving that company's aircraft business.

Ford responded that "this entire management team is dedicated to turning this company around." He said new CEO Alan Mulally was "the best person aboard to take us through that and I'm thrilled he's here." Ford was earlier quoted giving a statement of support for Mulally. "He's off to a great start," Ford said. "He's exactly who we need to lead us through this turnaround." He added, "We needed someone who had taken an organization through incredibly challenging circumstances. He shares my vision of building a responsive and responsible company."

The meeting was Mulally's first mass encounter with shareholders of the ailing automaker, and the first since Ford posted a $12.6 billion loss for 2006. He told the assembly that the quality of Ford products is now equal to Toyota and Nissan, and that "We're not where we need to be, but we're making good progress. The transformation of our Ford Motor Co. is well under way."

Two weeks ago, the automaker reported better-than-expected first-quarter results, slashing its loss to $282 million compared to $1.4 billion in 2006. Nevertheless, the company's key North American automobile business posted worse results than last year. The dramatic decline in sales is an aftermath of the continuing loss of market share and the increasing interest costs associated with the automaker's restructuring plan.

Ford acknowledged the ongoing difficulties. "We're at a crossroads," he said. "We're taking dramatic and sometimes painful steps to transform our business. Our turnaround is going to take time, but we're determined to make it happen."

About 100 people were at the meeting, including some 80 investors plus Ford staff and officers. That's less of a crowd than in some previous years and the mood was relatively low-key. Ford said he hired Mulally to lead the company through an industrywide transformation. He also said Ford remains an environmental leader and is working internally and with other manufacturers to develop new green technologies. Nevertheless, shareholder Sister Patricia Daly spoke up to suggest a resolution urging, as a "moral issue," more action on the environmental front.

The board voted against the resolution, but Mulally said, "I have been very encouraged about the dialogue we're all starting to have now" in America regarding the environment. It is high time for the automaker to take in the breeze from , continues with the restructure plan.

The annual meeting included the re-election of directors with shareholders voting in person or by proxy. Other voting results include: ratifying PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP as Ford's 2007 accounting firm, passed with 98.04 percent for the proposal; ratifying PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP as Ford's 2007 accounting firm, passed with 98.04 percent for the proposal; disclosure of certain compensation of executive officers: Failed with 90.2 percent against the proposal; adoption of quantitative goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from Ford products and operations: failed with 85.9 percent against; allowing holders of 10 percent of common stock to call special shareholders meetings: failed with 80 percent against; providing that all outstanding stock represent one vote per share: failed with 72.6 percent against; that the board of directors should publish a report on global warming: failed with 96 percent against; removal of references to sexual orientation from its employment policies, failed with 96 percent against; that a minimum of 75 percent of future senior executive compensation be performance-based: failed with 91 percent against; and that Ford issue a report on rising health care expenses: failed with 93 percent against.

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