Remember Ford Motor’s Nick Scheele-David Thursfield Rivalry? Nobody Else … – Forbes
The death of former Ford Motor company President Nick Scheele is a reminder of how Ford used to work, as executive competitions overshadowed the business of making cars and trucks.
Scheele was president of Ford from late 2001 until early 2005. The U.K.-born Scheele was elevated to the post when Chairman Bill Ford deposed Chief Executive Officer Jacques Nasser and took the CEO post himself.
While Scheele held the president’s job, another executive was engaged in a rivalry with him: David Thursfield. Despite their similar ages (Scheele was born in 1944, Thursfield in 1945), the two presented contrasting images. Scheele was “affable” (a favorite description in news stories) while Thursfield was described last year by the U.K. Daily Mail as a “cigar chomping” former Ford executive. During his tenure at Ford, Thursfield was known for cutting costs. Scheele walked slowly. Thursfield exuded confidence in himself.
At the time Scheele held the No. 2 executive post, Thursfield was promoted to head Ford’s international operations and was its purchasing chief. He was seen as a rising star at Ford. Scheele, in 2003, sent out an email urging executives to ignore rumors that he was engaged in a feud with Thursfield. News of the email was reported shortly after it went out.
You generally don’t send out that kind of email unless you have to. In this case, Ford had to. The Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker generated executive drama. Ford watchers kept an eye whether Scheele would hold onto his job or whether Thursfield would take it from him. Meanwhile, Ford relied on record sales of F-Series pickups and profits from its Ford Motor Credit consumer-financing arm while its lineup of cars atrophied.
By 2004, the rivalry came out in Scheele’s favor. A Scheele man, Jim Padilla, the company’s head of North American operations, succeeded him as chief operating officer while Thursfield retired from the automaker.
However, the victory wasn’t lasting. Ford’s long-term problems festered. Padilla fell out of favor and retired in 2006. The automaker’s financial condition worsened, forcing it to hire Alan Mulally in September 2006, with Bill Ford yielding the CEO title. During the 2001-2006 period, there was a lot of sizzle, but — with the benefit of hindsight — not much steak. It wasn’t until the 2006-2014 Mulally era that the long-term issues were really addressed. European luxury brands were sold off to concentrate on the namesake Ford brand, plants were shut and the Mercury brand ended.
At the time, the Scheele-Thursfield drama seemed genuinely important. With Scheele’s passing, it comes across as more of an asterisk. Neither man is likely to get a huge mention in future histories of Ford. Still, it is the kind of affair where Ford used to waste a lot energy. The question for Ford is whether the post-Mulally Ford can avoid those kinds of episodes.