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Ford CEO to make Street wait as UAW gets vision first

Keith Naughton and John Lippert
Bloomberg News

Before he lays out his plans for Ford Motor Co. to Wall Street analysts and investors, new Chief Executive Officer Jim Hackett is going to share his vision for the automaker with leaders of its workers’ union.

The mid-September meeting in Detroit with United Auto Workers leaders from across the U.S. sends an important signal that the new boss is putting workers first, Jimmy Settles, the head of the union’s Ford department, said in an interview Wednesday.

“Normally, it’s the other way around, if it happens at all,” Settles said of the CEO meeting with union leaders before Wall Street. “Then people know that I care about you. You’re hearing it from me. You don’t have to hear about it from the media.”

Settles said Hackett has already assured him and UAW President Dennis Williams that there are no plans to seek layoffs of union workers, even as Ford plans to cut 10 percent of its salaried staff in North America and Asia this month. Hackett, who became CEO in May after Ford’s board ousted predecessor Mark Fields, has been engaged in a review of the company’s strategy in his first 100 days in the job.

Tomorrow’s jobs

“He said, Look here, my review is not to see how many heads I can cut.’ He made that perfectly clear,” Settles said of a recent conversation he and Williams had with Hackett. “He’s looking for innovation. We talked about upscaling. The jobs of today may not be the jobs of tomorrow, but let’s talk about that in advance.”

Ford confirmed Hackett would be meeting with the union but declined to comment on what he planned to discuss.

“Ford and the UAW leadership hold regular meetings throughout the year,”Kelli Felker, a company spokeswoman, said in an email. “Ford’s senior leadership team routinely participates in these meetings to talk with the union about the business.”

Hackett is expected to lay out plans to accelerate development of autonomous cars and boost Ford’s sagging stock in an Oct. 3 meeting with analysts and investors in New York. Settles foresees Hackett sharing some of that plan first with UAW leaders, he said in an interview at UAW’s Solidarity House headquarters overlooking the Detroit River, adding that he was the one who requested the meeting between Hackett and union officials.

Benefit of the doubt

“I hope he outlines the vision, the long-term vision,” Settles said. “Our members want to hear that. People want to feel secure.”

Ford is better prepared for the coming downturn that it has been previously, Settles said. But it’s “human nature” for workers to worry about their job security as U.S. auto sales decline for the first time in eight years, he said.

Hackett, the former CEO of office furniture maker Steelcase Inc., still is in his “honeymoon time” and gets the benefit of the doubt because he was hand picked by Executive Chairman Bill Ford, who is popular with workers, Settles said.

“Hackett is obviously not a car man, but he knows manufacturing and seems to be very, very innovative,” Settles said. “It seems when Bill Ford personally goes out and picks people, they seem to be the right people.”