Last Friday’s shakeup in the uppermost ranks of Ford Motor Company came as a surprise, with many employees and observers claiming that the automaker’s former president of automotive, Joe Hinrichs, took the fall for the company’s recent failings.
After announcing Hinrichs’ unexpected retirement and elevating Jim Farley, head of new businesses and autonomy, to chief operating officer (effective March 1st), CEO Jim Hackett responded to the decision in a media scrum. At the same time, Hinrichs was delivering a letter to Ford employees.
The letter sent to Ford’s automotive leadership team, obtained by Automotive News, sees Hinrichs — who showed no desire to leave in the weeks and months leading up to his departure — talk up the company’s successes.
“We concluded the investment in Rivian, literally stealing it away from GM in the last days,” Hinrichs wrote. “We took a leadership stand on climate change and, after unsuccessful attempts to bring California and the White House together, forged our own path forward with a fuel economy agreement with CARB. We helped the USMCA agreement finally come to life. We worked in the background to help the US and China finally find common ground on trade.”
From rolling out new truck and SUV models to business shakeups and streamlining efforts in China, Europe, and South America, Hinrichs offered up a hit parade for employees. The alliance with Volkswagen and Ford’s Indian joint venture with Mahindra also factored into his company’s forward-thinking successes, though these efforts have yet to bear financial fruit.
Hinrichs was also happy to see the Bronco, a product he fought for, poised to reach production.
“I will be proudly watching as that finally happens,” he wrote.
Hinrichs’ sudden departure came soon after a stock-sinking earnings report born of troubles in the Ford Explorer/Lincoln Aviator rollout, plus red ink stemming from lawsuits and recalls. He capped off the goodbye letter with a plea to the leadership team:
I do have one last request. Please pass this note along to your teams and all our wonderful Ford employees as I unfortunately will not get the chance to say thanks myself. To each and every employee at Ford Motor Company – thank you for all your love and support. It has been an honor to serve with you.
Speaking to media soon after the announcement, Hackett said Hinrichs “was beloved” by execs and employees alike. His promotion to president of automotive was only revealed by Hackett last April.
“Joe’s going to have a wonderful career. But everybody believes the momentum that we’re talking about building here is the right thing to do,” the CEO said.
Ford employees responded quickly to the news. In posts on the automaker’s internal company website (seen by the Detroit Free Press), many offered grateful tributes, characterizing Hinrichs as a “sacrificial lamb” and a “fall guy.”
Hackett’s leadership factored into several posts, with one employee claiming, “In the last couple years I did not see even one person who supported Hackett.”
The newspaper noted that emails sent to Hinrichs over the weekend bounced back, showing that the man once seen as a candidate for CEO is now truly a former exec. As the automaker moves on from a terrible week, all eyes will be in the company’s stock. Its share price sank nearly 10 percent on February 5th, and Friday’s shakeup did nothing to restore investor confidence.