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Ford boss bows out

Greener pastures: Departing Ford Australia president Tom Gorman.

Blue Oval boss Tom Gorman denies being pushed from a 20-year Ford career

Ford logo23 Jan 2008

FORD Australia president Tom Gorman has made it clear he jumped and was not pushed from the top job at Campbellfield, saying he leaves the company next month only because of a better opportunity outside the automotive industry.

Less than a week after GM Holden caught the industry by surprise with the sudden replacement of its managing director, Ford last Wednesday (January 16) announced that Mr Gorman will be replaced by another 47-year-old American automotive executive, Bill Osborne, effective from February 1.

Like his new counterpart across town at Fishermen’s Bend, the new president of Ford Australia is seen as ‘a car guy’, and arrives next month from a two-year stint as president of Ford of Canada, giving him good experience of running a broad car company – albeit not one with its market share at an 80-year low.

Mr Gorman, 47, has led the company through a turbulent period since March 2004 and last year saw Ford’s market share drop to just 10.3 per cent – which GoAuto believes is the company’s worst result in Australia since 1928. Falcon sales dropped to an all-time low.

However, Mr Gorman told the media in the wake of the announcement that he had been head-hunted for a new job – with an Australian company, based in London and starting March 1 – and that it was a personal decision to end his 20-year career with Ford.

“What I’m doing is making a very personal decision for myself and my family to do something outside Ford,” said Mr Gorman.

“I think it would be incorrect to jump to the conclusion that... I don’t know if you are getting at, ‘well, are you leaving because your performance wasn’t good or are you being sacked?’ or something like that... I think you are jumping to a bold conclusion there.”Mr Gorman also denied any knowledge of a rumour that did the rounds of the industry last year that disgruntled Ford dealers had gone to the top brass in Detroit and requested his removal.

“I’m unaware with any issues with our dealers asking for me to be removed,” he responded, “but I can tell you that no dealer should be happy with declining volume and declining market share.

 center imageLeft: Bill Osborne.

“If you look at our business – and Holden’s business for that matter – I think that you would find that both sets of dealers would be less than perfectly happy with their manufacturers.

“What you have to remember is that we built our business as the Falcon Motor Company and we have been trying to restructure that business and that image now for the last several years – at least the four years that I’ve been here – and that transformation of the business has been hard on us as a manufacturer, it has presented a lot of challenges, but it has also presented a lot of challenges for our dealer body.

“I think we are coming through that transformation now, but… we’ve built our business on the back of the Falcon. The large-car segment used to be 30 per cent of this industry and last year it was less than 13 per cent, and that’s affected our business and affected our dealers, so we’ve both been responding to it.”Mr Gorman rates the development of the next-generation ‘Orion’ Falcon as one of the highs of his time in Australia, but his surprise departure means that he will not get to present the launch of this all-important model, which will be vital to reverse the disturbing decline in Ford’s fortunes in Australia.

Despite presiding over such a difficult time in Ford Australia’s history, Mr Gorman does not believe that he was handed a ‘poison chalice’ when he took the job four years ago and regards it as the highlight of his working life.

“I think this is the best job I’ve ever had at Ford,” he said without hesitation. “I think it’s been the best opportunity for me, for personal and professional growth, and I couldn’t say enough good things about the last four years for me personally.

“The automotive industry is not for the thin-skinned or the weak of heart. It’s the most exciting and challenging industry that I know of and with that comes great highs and great lows. There have been some phenomenal accomplishments here and there have been some things that have been tough to take as the head of Ford Australia (but) I’ve done everything in my ability to hand it to my successor in a better shape to be competitive going forward.”The highlights of the past four years, said Mr Gorman, have been: * Building up the ‘engineering centre of excellence’ with product development vice-president Trevor Worthington (more than half the company’s engineers now work on non-Falcon/Territory business) * Winning the contract for the global T6 compact pick-up that is due to replace the Ranger and Mazda BT-50 * The Indian ‘V-car’ project, evidenced by last year’s Fiesta sedan * Winning the local production deal for the Focus from 2011 with government support * Sticking to his guns over the Falcon’s future in Australia (“Falcon is still critically important to us and we think we are going to put out a world-class rear-wheel drive family car) * The powertrain decision that will see an imported V6 replace the locally-produced inline six-cylinder engine (and other powertrains “in addition to petrol and diesel, which we dearly want to do”) * Negotiating a new labour agreement within the Work Choices legislation (“I’m pretty proud how we pulled that off”) * A term as president of the FCAI (“Stepping off the plane and stepping into that job gave me the opportunity to really learn our industry at a deeper level) * Restructuring (downsizing) the business.

On the last point, Mr Gorman said it was a “very difficult thing to do”, but was necessary for the company to move forward in a changing market.

“I don’t think we ran away from the tough decisions. I think I embraced the tough decisions and I think we did it in a way that had a great deal of integrity,” he said.

“I’m proud of the way that we treated all of our people. Nobody likes to make their company smaller but we had to do that and I think we’ve done it very smoothly, in great co-operation with our unions, and we treated our people with a great deal of respect.”As for the lows, it was not the Falcon that frustrated him most about 2007, but the sales of its Fiesta and Focus small cars.

But all that is behind him now as he turns his back on not only Australia, but Ford and the auto industry.

“I didn’t go looking for a job,” he said. “Someone came and found me… It just so happened that this opportunity came along at the same time that I was thinking about what I might do next with Ford. I’ve been at this place for over 20 years now and I’ve had a long love affair with Ford.

“I’ve decided to make a pretty big change in my life. It probably comes down to really wanting to do something different. I’m 47 years old now and this just happened to be a pretty unique opportunity. I can make a big difference and I’m just basically going to give it a shot and see what I can do.

“I don’t know whether the path I’m going down is ultimately going to be better for me or not. I do know that it’s going to be different and it’s very exciting.”

Read more:

Local Ford chief replaced

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