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Polites backs new Ford Australia boss
Ford Australia’s outgoing president praises Tom Gorman appointment
25 Feb 2004
OUTGOING Ford Australia president Geoff Polites has endorsed his successor Tom Gorman as the right choice for the re-emerging local arm of the world’s number two car manufacturer.
Mr Gorman, currently sales manager of Ford division in the US, takes over as Ford Australia president on March 1, while Mr Polites moves on to Ford of Europe as vice-president of European sales staffs from April 1.
"The guy who is coming in is a really sharp businessman who will benefit from a time down here – and the whole company will benefit for him having experience down here," Mr Polites told the media at last week’s local launch of the Fiesta light car.
"And Ford Australia will benefit in the long run. The more friends Ford Australia has in high positions in the company, the better. Having ‘Fortress Ford Australia’ is not in the best interest of Ford Australia.
"If Tom comes here for three to four years, and does a really good job and then goes home and gets another big job within the organisation, but with a real strong knowledge of our capabilities as well as a great affection for Australia – and nobody that works goes home without loving the joint – they all do – then that could only help Ford Australia."
Mr Polites said it was not possible for an Australian to replace him because there were simply none available.
"There are Australians overseas at the moment who could have done it but they’re either doing other things, or – and this is equally important – it’s come up at the wrong time in their (work) cycle, so they can’t be pulled out,' he said.
Mr Polites also moved to clarify the appointment of John Crew as executive vice-president, operations at the same time as Mr Gorman’s appointment was announced, rejecting the common perception that two executives were being called in to replace him.
Essentially, Mr Gorman has control over the sales and marketing streams while Mr Crew – while reporting to Mr Gorman – runs the product and manufacturing side.
Mr Polites said a changing automotive climate to the one that prevailed when he began as president prompted the restructure.
"As we get bigger in the Ford Asia-Pacific world, there’s a whole lot more to do in the area. We’re much more involved now," he said.
"We’re doing stuff for India (a sedan Fiesta to replace the old Fiesta-based Ikon), as well as China.
"In the last year alone China’s new car sales growth was bigger than the total Australian new car market."
REGRETS – I'VE HAD A FEWLOOKING back on his own achievements, Mr Polites offered four things that he’s proudest of: the BA-led Falcon turnaround, the new Territory, Ford’s recent motorsport success and a stronger customer focus.
The latter two are a result of a concerted effort for a greater understanding of Australian consumers.
On the flipside, Mr Polites admits he expected the Focus and Escape to have sold better.
"I regret not getting Fiesta two years ago," he said.
"I’d also rather have had the ST170 Focus ready at launch, with 220kW rather than what it’s got.
"But there’s a whole lot of things I can’t control so (there’s no point) getting too worried about it." It is obvious Mr Polites would liked to have seen the Territory through to its June launch.
He is also proud of the understanding he has forged with factory workers, unions, ex-Ford retirees and the evergreen army of brand loyalists.
"They’re relationships I’ll miss when I go to Europe. I don’t think you can get this level of interaction anywhere but in Australia," he said.
NEW JOB NERVESGEOFF Polites admits to some nerves about his new job – at least partly because he’s unsure what awaits him at Ford’s European headquarters in Cologne, Germany.
"I need to learn more about my new role, so I can’t really say what I will do there exactly," he said.
And he shied away from any suggestion that he will be Ford Australia’s inside man in the halls of power in Germany.
"I’m just a small cog in a big wheel. So I don’t think I could make a difference," he said.
"If I do go to bat for Ford Australia, I think it will also be for the benefit of Ford of Europe too.
"But I’m not the panacea for any problems Ford Australia might have with Ford of Europe."
ABOUT THAT AFL JOBLAST year Mr Polites knocked back the chance of becoming AFL chief executive because he felt there was still work to be done at Ford.
But as it turns out, he wasn’t telling the whole story.
"I was never really a contender for the AFL job simply because Ford of Europe had already approached me for this one," he said.
Mr Polites had made up his mind by then to make the move to Cologne, despite someinitial reservations from his wife Linda and other family members.
"But I’ll be back soon anyway. My son will be getting married soon," Mr Polites said.
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