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Whickman to lead Ford Australia into new era

End of an era: Ford Australia has announced that Bob Graziano (left) will retire his position of president and chief executive at the end of March, with marketing and sales boss Graeme Whickman set to take over.

Bob Graziano hands over reins of Ford in Australia, New Zealand to Graeme Whickman

19 Mar 2015

FORD’S president and chief executive for Australia and New Zealand, Bob Graziano, has elected to retire at the end of this month, handing over to vice-president of marketing, sales and service Graeme Whickman.

Mr Graziano, 55, has presided over the company for the past four-and-a-half years – the most difficult period in its history – and was the frontman as the American automotive giant determined to close its manufacturing operations in Australia and experienced significant financial losses, coupled with diminishing sales and market share, along the way.

Although far from retirement age, Mr Graziano is preparing to leave Ford Motor Company after more than three decades of service.

His family repatriated from Melbourne to Detroit 15 months ago, and the company has advised that “now that he is comfortable with the foundation and strategy we have now in place here, this was a great opportunity for him to reunite with them”.

He is expected to become more heavily involved in charitable work.

Mr Whickman, meanwhile, becomes the sixth president of Ford Australia since the late Geoff Polites handed over to Tom Gorman in March 2004.

Every president since then, including Bill Osborne – who lasted seven months, resigning in September 2008 – and Marin Burela – who handed over to Mr Graziano in November 2010 – was charged with improving the company’s position in the face of reduced demand for its vehicles, particularly the locally produced Falcon, however market share and sales have consistently fallen.

Last year, Ford’s sales dropped below 80,000 units, and its share was down to 7.2 per cent – new low-points for a brand that 10 years earlier was selling more than 135,000 cars a year and commanded more than 14 per cent of the entire new-vehicle market.

After two months of trading this year, sales are down a further 21 per cent and its market share has plunged to 6.0 per cent.

Mr Whickman, 46, must now oversee Ford’s manufacturing exit next year – a move that is costing 1200 jobs in Geelong and Broadmeadows, and countless others in the supply chain – and the release of 20 upgraded or new-generation imported models by the end of the decade.

As well as increasing sales and share in the increasingly competitive market, Mr Whickman will be tasked with restoring Ford to profitability in Australia.

The company is yet to reveal its 2014 financial results, but has posted significant losses in the previous three years, including $267 million in 2013.

Ford Australia communications and public affairs director Wes Sherwood said Mr Whickman will maintain his role as the leader of marketing, sales and service as the company transitions to a national sales company.

Prior to joining Ford Australia in September 2013, Mr Whickman was vice-president of sales at Ford Motor Company Canada.

He has held a variety of senior positions since joining the Blue Oval brand some 18 years ago, including executive director of marketing for the Asia-Pacific regional office, and marketing chief and dealer operations manager for Ford in New Zealand.

His first job was as a zone manager in New Zealand, having joined the car-maker after working for Coca-Cola in New Zealand and Hertz in the UK.

He grew up in England and New Zealand, obtaining a Bachelor of Business in marketing from Auckland University of Technology in 1998.

Announcing the new appointment today, Ford Motor Company’s Asia-Pacific president Dave Schoch, to whom Mr Whickman will now report, paid tribute to Mr Graziano, describing him as “a terrific leader for Ford in so many roles around the world”.

“Nowhere has this been more true than in his current role with Ford in Australia and New Zealand,” he said.

“With Bob at the helm, we have set the business on a new path that will result in a thriving product development centre and a world-class marketing and sales organisation serving the wants and needs of our customers in Australia for years to come.”

For his part, Mr Graziano said: “Leading the team in Australia through such an important and difficult time has been an honour.

“The progress we have made on transforming the business in the last two years has been dramatic – completely rethinking the experience our dealers deliver to our customers and dramatically improving sales and service satisfaction, securing robust agreements that will allow our manufacturing employees to move on from Ford with dignity and hope, announcing our new office near central Melbourne, and ensuring we can continue to serve our customers with 20 new vehicles by 2020.

“I am confident that this transformation will be successful and that we have the right team in place to accelerate that transformation.”

Before leading Ford Australia, Mr Graziano was chairman and CEO of Ford China.

He also previously served as executive vice-president and representative director for Mazda Motor Corporation, and president and CEO of Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa.

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