Ford CEO gets mixed reviews

When the Lincoln-Mercury franchises were eliminated, many Ford dealers found themselves with competitors selling the same products less than two kilometres away. Four dealers have gone to court in a class-action suit against the company as a result of the switch.

The Globe and Mail
November 30, 2000

Ford CEO gets mixed reviews
Dealers give conditional praise for outgoing Bobbie Gaunt
Greg Keenan

Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. dealers voiced some praise yesterday for departing president and chief executive officer Bobbie Gaunt, but pointed out that measures she took harmed the relationship between the company and its retail operators.

Ms. Gaunt transformed the Canadian company’s retail network by ending the sale of Mercury cars, establishing a program to reward dealers with high customer satisfaction scores and pushing the firm to be among the leaders in e-commerce.

“Bobbie likely made more changes than any other Ford president in history – changes that I believe initiated from the States,” one Ontario Ford dealer said in describing her 3½ –year term at the wheel. “Every day we’d be waiting to see what other bomb was about to drop.”

Another dealer said Ms. Gaunt’s departure will allow Ford Motor to appoint a new CEO who will focus on specific problems “rather than the potpourri of issues that we’ve been dealing with that have taken our eyes off what we do best.”

But it was the fallout from switching Lincoln-Mercury dealers to Ford outlet and customer satisfaction initiative – called the Blue Oval Certified program – that left a legacy of anger among many dealers.

When the Lincoln-Mercury franchises were eliminated, many Ford dealers found themselves with competitors selling the same products less than two kilometres away. Four dealers have gone to court in a class-action suit against the company as a result of the switch.

In the Blue Oval program, a percentage of the revenue from every sale a dealer makes goes into a fund, but only those who meet certain customer satisfaction targets will win rewards from that fund.

“That has been – and still is - a huge bone of contention with the dealers,” the Ontario dealer said. Others pointed out, however, that the Blue Oval program is a worldwide initiative from Ford Motor’s head office in Dearborn Mich., and Ms. Gaunt was powerless to stop it.

Another dealer praised the Mercury move because the company had too many dealers in Canada. Stopping Mercury sales helped reduce the count.

Ms. Gaunt, who is retiring after 28 years at Ford Motor, acknowledged that her biggest regret is her falling out with dealers. She has said a number of times that dealers taught her about the car business during her formative years at Ford.

Dealers did, however, praise Ms. Gaunt for her strong work ethic – she was famous for firing off e-mails at 2 a.m. - and for keeping them informed of actions that would change the way they did business.

Ms. Gaunt also won praise from union leader Alex Keeney, who head Local 200 of the Canadian Auto Workers union in Windsor, Ont.

“I think she’s been a breath of fresh air for the Canadian operations,” Mr. Kenney said yesterday. “She’s been in Windsor more than any CEO in recent memory.”


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