Nasser, Jacques Albert
Nasser, Jacques Albert
Ford Motor Company
Cosmopolitan and personable, former Ford Motor Company president and chief executive officer (CEO) Jacques A. Nasser mapped his road to success in the high octane world of the number two automaker. Nasser developed his career skills as he worked his way back and forth around the world as a top executive for the car manufacturer. During the course of his 33–year career with Ford, the multi–lingual Nasser was stationed in 10 countries across six continents—a truly global career. He earned a reputation as a hard working executive, full of common sense and drive. He is credited with saving the company billions of dollars and with turning around the company's faltering operations in Australia and Europe. His career with Ford ended when a recall and gloomy economic environment clouded the company's current condition and future prospects.
Jacques Nasser makes his home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where he lives with his wife, Jennifer, an Australian–born schoolteacher. The couple have three daughters and a son. Nasser enjoys reading books, biographies in particular, and his musical tastes run to 1960s rock–and–roll. He is a connoisseur of fine cigars and vintage cars. His automobile collection includes two prized Jaguars, an Aston–Martin, and a rare 1966 Mustang convertible fitted with a right–hand steering column, one of only 20 such cars built to this specification.
Nasser was born in 1947 in the town of Amyoun, Lebanon, located north of Beirut. During the Great Depression and World War II, his parents moved several times to a number of different countries, including the United States, in search of better economic opportunity. Ultimately they returned to Lebanon during the war, but retained their international disposition by speaking French in the home. Thus Nasser adopted French as his mother tongue, with Arabic as a second language.
Post–war economic conditions were no better than earlier in Lebanon, so in 1951, when Nasser was not quite four, the family packed their meager belongings, boarded a Greek ocean liner that was converted to a troop transport, and sailed for four weeks to Melbourne, Australia. There Nasser, his parents, and his infant brother settled into a working class neighborhood, and Nasser grew up playing tennis, squash, football, and cricket. He was an enterprising child who started a number of different businesses while still in his teens, each with his father's hearty encouragement. As time passed, Nasser became dissatisfied with private entrepreneurial pursuits, as they restricted his inner need to be involved in global commerce.
In 1968 Jacques Nasser enrolled at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and secured a job in an undergraduate training program with the Ford Motor Company in Australia. He worked as a financial analyst with Ford while pursuing a degree in business, and by the 1980s he was in charge of Ford's finances in Latin America and Asia Pacific. In 1982 Nasser was stationed in South Africa, and in 1983 he moved to Ford's headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.
With his international flair and global orientation, Nasser did not stay in Dearborn for long—he was clearly destined to see the rest of the world. In 1985 he saw more than he cared to see, however, when Ford sent him to Buenos Aires, Argentina, as the head of finance and planning. He had barely arrived at the Ford facility when the entire plant came under a month–long siege by a guerilla band that was protesting President Raul Alfonsin's harsh and oppressive policies toward the Argentinean workers. Nasser spent the first month of his assignment in negotiations with the government and the General Confederation of Workers, initially to secure the release of his employees who were held hostage, and ultimately to hammer out a peace agreement between the two factions.
After that first harrowing month, Nasser's Latin American sojourn was more focused and routine. By 1987 he was the head of Autolatina, a Brazilian and Argentinean finance holding company for Ford and Volkswagen. For the duration of the 1980s, Nasser worked for Ford Motor Company Europe, which was suffering under a recession. Nasser implemented drastic economic measures that included a strategy of aggressive job elimination at the European facilities. His personnel cutting tactics earned him the dubious nickname "Jac the Knife."
Ford Motor Company transferred him back to Australia in 1990 to head Ford Australia, another enterprise in dire financial straits. Nasser, true to his track record, restored that venture to a profit–making status by the time he left Australia in January 1993. From there he headed back to Europe, where downsizing had begun during his absence. In London the situation was grim and universally described as "hemorrhaging." He worked out of Brentwood, England, as the chairman of the board of Ford of Europe for one year, restructuring the European operation for greater efficiency. In all, Nasser traveled to and worked in 10 countries during the course of his career with Ford.
Nasser proved so capable as a leader, that by 1994 Ford promoted him to group vice president for product and development. He orchestrated such cost–cutting innovations as buying out independent dealers and turning their distributorships into superstores. Additionally, he moved the Lincoln–Mercury headquarters from Michigan to Irvine, California, for a breath of "fresh air," as it was a less conservative environment.
As early as 1995 corporate observers speculated that Nasser was in line to become CEO of Ford Motor. Among his qualifications were his impeccable reputation around the world, his affinity for speeding products to market, and his ability to implement effective cost–cutting measures. In 1996, in the wake of a restructuring at Ford, Nasser assumed a dual responsibility as Chairman of Ford of Europe and Vice President of Operations for Ford Motor Company
By July 1997 Nasser had restored Ford to profitability and sent its stock price soaring. His successful tactics included the permanent halt of production of several rear–wheel drive products over the course of the spring and summer months of 1997. Observers praised Nasser for slashing the company's operating costs by $4.3 billion during 1997 and the first six months of 1998. Key to Nasser's strategy was a program to develop Ford products with consideration for safety and the environment. Nasser's management and problem–solving abilities, combined with his personable yet sophisticated manner, led to his promotion to President and CEO of Ford Motor Company on January 1, 1999. Nasser was the youngest CEO in Ford history not to have descended from the company's founder, Henry Ford.
In an interview given in December 1999, Nasser predicted that the twenty–first century would be an "incredibly fortunate" time for all industries, but especially for the automotive industry. He foresaw vehicle communication systems—navigation systems, security systems, communication systems, e–mail—as strong growth areas for the industry, noting that there was no reason that one's office or home could not be duplicated in a car. Nasser also questioned whether there was any such thing as stability in a world that was changing so quickly. "The only thing that is predictable today is that the world is unpredictable," he opined.
The picture remained bright for Ford Motor and Nasser until August 2000, when the company issued a limited recall of the tires on its Explorer sports utility vehicle. The Firestone tires that came factory–installed on the Explorer had been found to contribute to vehicle roll–overs. By November the tires were linked to 119 deaths and more than 500 road injuries. This statistic not only expanded the recall to 6.5 million tires, it also prompted the U.S. Congress to conduct its own hearings on regulations related to vehicle safety.
To Nasser's credit, Ford responded to the crisis by attempting to get the tires off the road as quickly as possible. When Firestone requested at least six weeks to replace the tires, Ford found this length of time unacceptable and turned to Goodyear, Michelin, and Continental to deliver replacements. Meanwhile, Ford closed its Explorer plant at a cost of $500 million in lost production.
Chronology: Jacques Albert Nasser
1968: Joined Ford Motor as financial analyst.
1982: Stationed in South Africa.
1985: Sent to Buenos Aires as Head of Finance and Planning.
1990: Named president of Ford Australia.
1993: Promoted to Executive VP and Chairman of Ford Europe.
1994: Named Ford Motor Group VP of Product Development.
1996: Became president of Auto Operations.
1999: Named President and CEO of Ford Motor Company.
2001: William Clay Ford, Jr. is announced Nasser's successor as CEO.
The recall, however, precipitated a downward spiral for both Ford and Nasser. Ford was forced to cut its century–old ties to Firestone, and the recall of 20 million tires cost $3 billion. The cost to the company's image was immeasurable. To add to Ford's economic difficulties, a recession contributed to the loss of both market share and profitability. Ford failed to post profits for two straight quarters, and didn't foresee a return to profitability in the immediate future. As a result, Nasser and Ford Motor parted ways by mutual agreement on October 29, 2001. The following day, the company announced that Henry Ford's 44–year–old great–grandson William Clay Ford, Jr., would succeed Jacques Nasser as CEO.
Social and Economic Impact
When Nasser took its helm in 1999, Ford Motor Company was firing on all cylinders, overflowing with cash and new products, and was hot on the heels of the world's number one automaker, General Motors. Nasser was viewed as the best and brightest executive to occupy the company's famed Glass House since Lee Iacocca. His cost–cutting tactics and effective management style propelled Ford to even greater success, and Nasser was considered a model leader.
However, Nasser fell from grace during the Firestone tire recall on the Ford Explorer. As the head of the automaker, he was held accountable for the company's financial losses and injured reputation. Ford's directors concluded that Nasser could not effectively lead the company out of its problematic condition, and he was replaced in 2001. In his wake, the company's new Chief Operating Officer Nick Scheele initiated a broad restructuring that would cut thousands of jobs and scale back manufacturing operations in an effort to offset the sluggish economy and increased competition.
Sources of Information
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Deb, Sandipan, and Bharat Ahluwalia. "The Future Lies in Personalised Cars." OutlookIndia.com. 6 December 1999. Originally posted on http://www.outlook.india.
Ellis, Michael. "Ford CEO Warns of More Cost Cuts to Come." Forbes, 19 August 2001.
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"Ford's CEO Expects Restructuring Plan in 60 Days." Forbes, 29 August 2001.
"Ford's Nasser Upbeat Despite Firestone Fallout." Ward's Auto World, December 2000.
Holstein, William J. "A Driven Man at Ford: Jacques Nasser, Possible Future CEO, Faces Tough Tests." U.S. News & World Report, 19 January 1998.
"It's Curtains for 'Jac the Knife.'" The Wall Street Journal, 31 October 2001.
"The Prince and the Pauper." The Economist, 19 September 1998.
Robinson, Aaron. "New CEO Has an Eye for Talent." Automotive News, 14 September 1998.
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