Wood: Ford family ties offer insight to running Lions

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Rod Wood, the Lions' new president, has worked closely with the Ford family the past eight years, and in doing so, he learned a significant amount about the team for which he'll now run the business operations.

Wood, wearing a tailored navy suit, introduced himself to the media and, by proxy, Lions fans Friday afternoon, and while he discussed the importance of hiring a smart football person to run the team's personnel and salary cap, he honestly acknowledged that his past work with the Fords helped him earn his new job.

"My career has taken so many turns that I would've never predicted," he said after his introductory news conference. "Sometimes you can end up at the right place at the right time. It's been a pleasure to work for the Ford family and get an exposure to an NFL team, and from that, this opportunity just kind of presented itself.

"I would probably say that I'm not qualified to run any other NFL team, but I think I'm qualified to run this one because of the connection to the Ford family and understand the business the last eight years working with them. … One of the keys to any organization is having alignment from the top to the bottom, and I think with my relationship and business background I can deliver on that."

As chief executive of Ford Estates, he developed a close relationship with Lions owner and chairwoman Martha Firestone Ford, her late husband and their four children.

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He attended every meeting of the Lions' board of directors — Ford and her children — the past year. He also was involved in the discussions that eventually ended with Ford firing President Tom Lewand and General Manager Martin Mayhew.

Still, both former executives texted congratulations to Wood, he said.

Wood attended the Lions' victory in Green Bay last Sunday and said he'd been in discussion with the Ford family "for a while" about him taking the job and realized last weekend it would likely happen.

Wood's background is in investment banking and private equity, but he said he's never bought a stock or bond for a client or drafted a legal document, instead relying on his ability to find advisors to handle such tasks.

Now, Wood and the Ford family must focus on finding the right general manager for the team. And Wood acknowledged he's unsure if that GM will report to him, which will certainly be a question candidates want answered.

And while Wood was frank in his admission that he's "not a football guy," he expressed confidence in his ability to find people who can handle tasks for which he's not qualified, which is why the GM will have control over personnel and the salary cap.

"I've always found in any position I ever had, it's important to know what you know and may be way more important to know what you don't know," he said.

Wood said the key to running any organization is the ability to find great people, empower them, set high goals and hold them accountable when those goals aren't met.

Among the qualifications Wood wants in a new GM is someone "who's got a demonstrated track record of running the football operation, building a roster, building a roster that's consistently able to compete."

He'd like to have the GM in place as soon as possible — interim GM Sheldon White is a candidate — but knows candidates currently employed by other teams won't be available until their seasons are over.

The Lions will lean heavily on the NFL's Career Development Advisory Panel, and Wood hopes to pick a primary advisor "very soon."

Wood said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called him Friday to offer his assistance, too.

Although he acknowledged he's never had a job in sports, Wood certainly has interest in the Lions. He said Matthew Stafford is the quarterback of his fantasy team, though declined to share his record this season.

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As a native of Goodrich, just southeast of Flint, he's a lifelong Lions fan.

"My dad recently reminded me that the last time the Lions won a championship was the year he graduated from high school," he said. "I think it's time we should change that."

Looking ahead, Wood doesn't think the Lions' roster requires a total overhaul, though any decision about the future of quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson will be up to the GM.

"We're not as far away as I think people might fear," he said. "We were 11-5 last year (and) in the playoffs. Obviously, we got off to a very disappointing start this year. There's a few holes I think we have to fill, but it's not a rebuild, and I think that we can do that hopefully very quickly."

Wood praised the Lions' culture as a family-owned business, but said a big part of his job will be setting better goals and holding people to higher standards.

"We're not going to accept mediocrity" he said. "I told the family when I took this job that I wasn't taking it to try and be average."