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From the Detroit Insider:

Ford heir: Failure is not option

Despite falling stock, family members haven't followed other dynasties in surrendering control.

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- With Ford Motor Co. closing plants, laying off workers and watching its stock price fall, it's a difficult time for the extended Ford family.

But the descendents of Henry Ford remain united behind the company he founded and the automaker's strategy for returning to financial health, said Alessandro Uzielli, a Ford family member who works for the automaker in California.

"Failure is not an option," Uzielli, 39, told The Detroit News in an interview this week. "We cannot afford to fail. We have to succeed."

The heirs of Henry Ford still control the company through a special class of stock, which carries a 40 percent voting stake.

Uzielli's cousin, Bill Ford Jr., has been chairman and CEO of Ford Motor since 2001.

The family, which convenes twice a year to hear presentations on the company, last met in October as the company was preparing a major restructuring that was announced in January.

Ford stock is trading at $8.16 a share, about a quarter of its value in late 2001, when it topped $30. This has put a dent in the Ford family's fortune, but its members have not followed other great business dynasties in surrendering control of the company.

"The family is 1,000 percent behind Bill," Elena Ford, the granddaughter of Henry Ford II and a Ford Motor executive, told The News shortly after the October meeting. "There's no family concern at all."

A generational shift is under way among Ford family members involved in day-to-day operations of the company.

Bill Ford Sr., the grandson of Henry Ford, owner of the Detroit Lions, and father of Bill Ford Jr., recently stepped down from the automaker's board of directors.

Edsel B. Ford II, the son of Henry Ford II, is still a member of Ford's board and consults with the company on some issues, including dealer relations.

His son, Henry Ford III, the 26-year-old great-great-grandson of Henry Ford, has joined the family business. The 2002 Dartmouth College graduate with a degree in history is working in Ford Motor's labor relations department.

"I think it's terrific that the fifth generation is taking as much interest as they are," Edsel Ford told reporters after a dealer meeting at the National Automobile Dealers Association conference in February.

Uzielli said the family has been impressed by Mark Fields, the man tapped by Bill Ford to engineer a turnaround in North America that involves shuttering more than a dozen plants and cutting some 30,000 factory jobs over the next six years.

"His energy is so what is needed now," Uzielli said of Fields, who is credited with turning around Mazda Motor Corp., which is controlled by Ford.

Uzielli said he and other family members appreciate Fields' pragmatic approach.

The full details of Ford's restructuring plan were announced in January, but Bill Ford and Fields have stressed that it is not a short-term solution.

In fact, both men have said a goal for this year is simply to slow Ford's loss of U.S. market share, which has been declining annually for a decade, from 25.4 percent at the end of 1996 to 17.4 percent through February.

Though the company as a whole remains profitable, its North American vehicle operations lost $1.6 billion last year and its credit rating has been lowered to junk bond status.

Fields' plan aims at restoring profitability by 2008.

The son of Henry Ford II's daughter Anne Ford and stockbroker Giancarlo Uzielli, Alessandro Uzielli has been an independent film producer for 15 years and a Beverly Hills restaurateur.

His most notable contribution to American filmography -- "Bongwater" -- became a minor cult hit and helped launch the careers of movie stars Jack Black, Luke Wilson and Brittany Murphy.

Uzielli is now Ford Motor's primary liaison with the entertainment industry, arranging movie and television deals to showcase Ford products.

He says his work in Hollywood is also part of the company's "way forward" strategy, which has put a new emphasis on defining each of the company's brands and giving each nameplate a distinct personality.
 
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