The herculean task of managing an Auto company

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Ford, the chairman and chief executive of Ford Motor Co., recently decided the time was right to shake up his employees.

"Anyone who thinks or attempts to convince you that it's business as usual at Ford is wrong and would best serve us all by pursuing their interests elsewhere," he told company employees in an e-mail. "Our heritage of innovation must be reclaimed and renewed or the greatness of our company will become part of our past. It's that simple."

In other words, it's Bill's way or the highway.

Let's start off by agreeing that Bill Ford is a smart man. The great-grandson of Henry Ford went to college at Princeton and later obtained an MBA at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

And, even with a bloodline to the pioneer automaker, Bill Ford didn't get his job because he's a nice guy or has a friendly smile. He's known as a shrewd and innovative strategist.

So why does he antagonize the members of his company's work force by inferring that they are part of the problem his corporation now faces?

You have to give credit to Ford for stepping up to take on the challenge of righting the course of one of America's greatest companies ever. But these are tough times in the auto industry. Failure to properly address environmental concerns, hamstrung by costly salary structures and benefits packages as its work force ages, and intense global competition in the car business makes his job daunting.

Frankly, most of us wouldn't want his job, or the sacrifices his family will make to allow him to adequately tackle the company's future.

He has to be under enormous pressure. He is the great hope of the Ford family that he will be able to steer the automaker back to brilliance.

The odds certainly are against him accomplishing this.

Yet, it makes no sense to lash out at Ford's employees. These are the very same people he will need on his side if his revitalization plan is to be successful.

Ford isn't the first executive to make this mistake. It happens every day.

Executives sometimes forget that all the great business plans, strategies, resources and successes are implemented by the people who work for them. And, the more motivated and inspired these employees are, the more committed they will be to the company and its initiatives.

It would have made a lot more sense for Ford to send an e-mail message to his employees that candidly assesses the plight of the corporation. He would have discussed its glories of the past, the immense challenge of trying to rebuild the company into an entity that would be able to thrive in the 21st Century just as it had for most of the 20th Century.

He could have made a challenge to every Ford employee to play a role in that, to bring the brains, energy and spirit to work each day for the express purpose of making the company better.

Companies - even the largest corporations in the world - are really nothing more than a bunch of people working together for a common goal.

That's not just a succinct, glib description. It's reality.

You hope that deep down every executive knows this and remembers it every day. It doesn't matter how brilliant your chief executive is, if he or she doesn't have the ability to inspire those who work for them to pursue a common goal.

Bill Ford probably knows that. But right now, he should be saying that to his employees, not casting threats over their future.

© Copley News Service

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