Job Hunting

Ford’s New Year’s Resolution: Find Permanent CFO

Report says Gilmour headed back to retirement; new finance chief would be automaker's fourth CFO in two years.
Lisa YoonJanuary 2, 2003

Ford Motor Co. is starting off 2003 with an usual New Year’s resolution: to find a new finance chief.

According to the Financial Times, the automaker is in the early stages of looking for a replacement for Allan Gilmour, whom Ford coaxed out of retirement seven months ago to take the CFO job.

In the report, the Times gave no source for the information. But in a call to Ford management by Reuters, spokesmen declined immediate comment on the report (read: They didn’t deny it). That absence of a denial is what makes analysts suspect the report is true.

Not that that they find the story all that surprising. “Coming out of retirement at his age [68], you know it was not a long-term position,” one analyst said to Reuters.

Other industry watchers agree: “I would expect that [Gilmour’s brief tenure] has been the plan all along,” another unnamed analyst told Reuters. “He’s not like [General Motors Corp. executive] Bob Lutz who’s been saying that he’d stay for a long time,” added the analyst.

Also unlike GM, Ford has failed to be competitive in the pricing war to gain market share in the car industry. After losing more than $5.45 billion the previous year, Ford chairman and chief Bill Ford Jr. appealed to the retired Gilmour to help implement the company’s turnaround plan.

Another clue into the recruiting situation at Ford is the leak of the story itself — a good sign that the company lacks qualified home-grown successors to Gilmour. “Once you’re doing an external search someone is going to find out about it,” Domenic Martilotti, an analyst at Bear, Stearns & Co., told Reuters.

While Wall Street isn’t all that concerned with the departure of Gilmour, analysts do believe it’s time for Ford to settle down on a permanent finance chief. Gilmour is Ford’s third CFO in two years.

In case you’re keeping track, Gilmour, a Ford lifer, was first named CFO of the company in 1986. He became vice chairman in 1993, but retired in 1995 after Ford directors passed him over and selected Alex Trotman as chief executive.

Ford then hired John Devine (now CFO at General Motors Corp.) to replace Gilmore. In January 2000, the automaker named Henry Wallace to replace the parting Devine. Then, in July 2001, Wallace, another Ford lifer, moved on take over to the job of group vice president at Mazda and Ford Asia Pacific. Wallace was replaced by Martin Inglis, who was then replaced by Gilmour in May.

All of the changes in the Ford finance department come on top of the other shakeups in the company’s executive suite, including the recent firing of chief executive Jacques Nasser. “Anytime you’ve got this kind of turnover,” Martilotti told Reuters, “it’s not a good thing.”