Ford names James Hackett CEO as challenges mount

Ford Motor Co (F.N) on Monday named James Hackett, who heads its unit developing self-driving cars, as chief executive officer, responding to investors’ growing unease about the U.S. automaker’s stock price and prospects.

Hackett, 62, a former CEO of furniture manufacturer Steelcase Inc, will take the helm in a broader shake-up aimed at speeding up decision-making and improving operations. He replaces Mark Fields, 56, who spent less than three years as CEO.

Ford shares were up 1.7 percent at $11.06 in morning trading. At Friday’s close, they had fallen 37 percent since Fields took over three years ago, at the peak of the U.S. auto industry’s recovery.

Now U.S. sales are slipping. The company’s profits are trailing those of larger rival General Motors (GM.N), whose shares fell 13 percent over the same period, and Ford’s market capitalization has fallen behind electric car maker Tesla Inc’s (TSLA.O).

Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. and the board have been unhappy with the company’s performance and sought reassurance that investments in self-driving cars, electric vehicles and ride services would pay off. The Ford family controls the automaker through a special class of voting rights stock.

Ford Jr. told reporters at a news conference that the automaker needs to make decisions faster.

“We have to modernize the business” and move “decisively to address underperforming areas,” he said.

The automaker has had a long-time “obsession with hierarchy,” he said, calling the new CEO “a cultural change agent.” Former Ford CEO Alan Mulally “really captured the hearts and minds of our employees … and I think that’s something you will see with Jim.”

Hackett, a former football player at the University of Michigan and interim athletic director, was named chairman of the Ford Smart Mobility LLC subsidiary in 2016 to focus on emerging businesses that include ridesharing and autonomous vehicles.

Ford said in February it was investing $1 billion in artificial intelligence company Argo AI to develop a virtual driver system for the automaker’s autonomous vehicle coming in 2021.