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Lions name Rod Wood team president

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Rod Wood

Allen Park — Rod Wood has been a trusted adviser to the Ford family for years, and now, the family will entrust the business operations of their football team to the longtime investment banker.

Wood, 55, will take over as team president and oversee the business decisions for the franchise after transitioning from his job as chief executive of Ford Estates. He will report directly to owner and chairwoman Martha Firestone Ford.

It’s unclear if Wood, who ran the family’s estate the past eight years, will have any role in personnel decisions or managing the salary cap. This will be his first job in the NFL.

"I am most pleased to announce Rod Wood as our new team president," Ford said in a statement. "Rod's familiarity with our organization in his role as president and CEO of Ford Estates and his accomplishments in the business world not only make him an ideal choice as team president, but will also help ensure a smooth and positive transition for our organization.

“It was critical to me and my family to fill the president’s position as soon as possible, provided we identified the right person. I am confident Rod is the right person.”

The team plans to introduce Wood in a news conference Friday afternoon. A team spokesman said he was not available Thursday because he was working on the search for a permanent general manager.

As CEO of Ford Estates, Wood directed “the delivery of a comprehensive set of financial and lifestyle management services to members of the Ford family,” according to his biography on Silver Lane Advisors, an investment banking firm for which he’s on the advisory board.

Liz Nesvold, a managing partner of Silver Lane, said Wood was the first board member she hired in 2008, a year after she founded the company, and his counsel helped the company thrive despite the global financial crisis at the time.

“He is one of those people that you meet, you get to know and you know how much value add there is,” she said. “He is a master at absorbing incredible amounts of highly technical information, and he really distills it down to a few points. He makes everything seem easy.”

Nesvold also said Wood “is not a shy person,” explaining that he was consistently vocal anytime her advisers were wrestling with ideas about growing the company.

The Lions also announced they have established an advisory board for their search for a permanent GM. They will not be using the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, which former Cowboys executive Gil Brandt told The Detroit News last week.

The advisory board will include Ford, Wood and Ford’s four children — Martha Ford Morse, Sheila Ford Hamp, William Clay Ford Jr. and Elizabeth Ford Kontulis. All four of the children are on the Lions’ board of directors along with Ford.

The Lions also will use the NFL’s Career Development Advisory Panel in their GM search, so they can seek counsel from former executives like Ron Wolf, Charley Casserly and Ernie Accorsi.

Whether the new GM reports to Wood or Ford could be a factor in the hiring process. The new GM surely will inquire about succession plans with Ford, 90, in charge.

Sheldon White has been the interim GM since Ford fired Martin Mayhew and Lewand two weeks ago, and White said last week he has the same powers as Mayhew with regards to personnel decisions.

Ford said in a statement that Wood’s appointment gives the team a chance to move more decisively as it looks for its next GM.

“While I am supremely confident Rod will do a great job in his role as President, I also know how critically important hiring the right GM is to the success of our football team,” she said in the statement. “Our No. 1 goal and focus will always be to produce a championship football team and hiring the best GM possible is the next step to making that a reality.”

Wood graduated from Goodrich (Michigan) High and earned a bachelor's of business administration from the University of Michigan. He then received a graduate degree from the American Bankers Association’s Graduate School of Commercial Banking.

Prior to his position at Ford Estates, Wood worked for Wilmington Trust Company in Wilmington, Delaware, directing the company’s wealth management business. Before that job, he worked as an executive for Comerica Bank.

“I am humbled and honored to accept this position," Wood said in a statement. "Mrs. Ford has made it clear that her goal, and the goal of the Ford family, is to make the Detroit Lions a championship football team and organization. In my role as team president, I will do everything possible to provide our organization with all the means necessary to succeed on the football field and provide our fans and city with a championship organization both on and off the field.”

Allison Maki, the interim chief operating officer after Lewand's firing, will retain her title as Wood makes his transition while also continuing to work as the team's chief financial officer.

Coach Jim Caldwell said he’s seen Wood around team headquarters regularly the past two years, most of the time with Ford.

“I know without question that he’s a smart man and certainly has handled a lot of very, very difficult tasks in the line of work that he’s been in,” Caldwell said. “He’s been around football enough. We see him around here quite a bit.”

Nesvold said Wood hired her at Wilmington Trust Company before she started Silver Lane. Although she knows the demands of his new job, Nesvold hopes Wood will can provide guidance to her company.

She also has no doubt he can succeed with the Lions because of his knowledge in business and legal strategies.

“One thing that I’ve always admired … is his ability to manage people in an industry with big personalities,” Nesvold said. “So in investment banking, that’s investment bankers who are in charge of very big deals who look forward to very big pay packages who have very big demands sometimes. And Rod has always been good to give us counsel on ways to think about incenting people or means for addressing challenges, whether it’s human capital challenges or business obstacles.

“He is that versatile when you give him a businessman’s hat. So few people can put on new hat and add value anywhere.”