As Bill Ford and Jim Hackett wrapped up their press conference last week announcing Hackett as Ford's new CEO, I wanted to ask: "OK, tell me again why you dismissed Mark Fields?"
But Fields is far from the first Ford boss to be removed on what amounts to a whim. It's what you sign up for when you become CEO or president of Ford Motor Co.
Indeed, of the five unscheduled departures of Ford CEOs or presidents in the past half-century — involving Bunkie Knudsen, Lee Iacocca, Don Petersen, Jacques Nasser and now Fields — only one, Nasser's, may have occurred because of financial distress.
The rationale was always much more elusive.
Henry Ford II told Knudsen in 1969, "It just didn't work out." Nearly nine years later, he said to Iacocca: "It's personal, and I can't tell you any more. It's just one of those things."
When Petersen retired in 1990 after getting Alan Mulally-like praise in the press, he simply said, "It's time to re-pot myself." To which we said, "Wait, what?"
It turned out that strained relations with the young Bill and Edsel Ford II were a contributing factor.
Nasser's firing in 2001 — when Bill Ford took over as CEO — was comparatively understandable. The Firestone tire crisis, in which hundreds of Explorers equipped with bad tires rolled over, was a huge distraction. Market share and profits fell. But the crisis wasn't really Nasser's fault. Not entirely, anyway. Like Petersen, Nasser had been lionized. In October 1999, he was pictured on the cover of Business Week. The headline inside read: "Remaking Ford: In his quest to make Ford a more consumer-oriented powerhouse, Nasser is off to a fast start."
The thing is, you don't need an ironclad explanation for sacking the Ford chief executive if you are the Ford family. Oh, and history has also shown that there's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes you go with your hunch.
In fact, there was that other time when Ford changed CEOs on a whim — in 2006, when Bill Ford replaced himself with Mulally.