The following is an edited transcript of an interview with Ford Motor
Co. Chief Executive Jacques Nasser, conducted on Sept. 7 by Bob
Simison of the Journal's Detroit bureau.
The The Wall Street Journal: How do you
think you came out [in your Congressional
Jacques Nasser: As a company we came out
well. We've been open throughout this. Our focus has always been the
customer. Our priorities have revolved around getting data out in the
open so good judgments can be made for the marketplace and our
customer base. I met with some of the members of the team that have
been working on this over the last few weeks this morning and feelings
WSJ: When did this whole tire thing show up on your radar screen?
Nasser: It was when Tom Baughman and Helen (Petrauskas) came to
see me. It was around the middle of May. They came to see me and say,
"Look, there's a lot of confusion around the situation of tires in
Venezuela. We want you to be aware of that." (Houston television
station) Channel 11 also had shown some footage that went back to
earlier this year, in February. And, I had seen that and I had started to
ask some questions at that point as well.
There was no one event. That TV reporting started to make me think,
"Are we getting all the information we really need? Is there more
happening out there than we know about?" As you know, we just don't
get good tire data.
WSJ: Had you been involved in the decisions on this Saudi thing?
Nasser: The Middle East situation I was not involved in. It was on the
ground between our dealer in the Middle East and Firestone and the
service and engineering community, who thought they had come to a
good solution with the replacement program and the Goodyear tires.
[Tom and Helen] had a lot of work done at that time. It was almost
connecting all the dots. It was what was going on: how much data do
we know? How much information did we get? How open has Firestone
been with us? We wanted to make sure whatever we did was focused
on the customer -- not legal issues or cost issues or any other issues.
It was what's right for the customer. What can we do as quickly as
possible? And we never wavered from that.
It was never really a crisis in our minds or hearts. It was more a test
our values and behaviors. The other thing it did for us, when you go
through times like this, it's a period when you value relationships, and
you really find out who your friends are and what they are made of. And
that's one thing. Internally, I wouldn't recommend this as a
management process. It's been a wonderful way of reinvigorating and
reenergizing team spirit and team work, and Ford Motor Company will
come out of this a better company and a stronger company and a more
focused company on values.
WSJ: Noel Tichy said sometime back in January, you made "Customer is
Job One" at that point.
Nasser: I did. It is the center of everything. We start with that and end
with that. We have to look at everything we do through the eyes of our
customers. I am so glad I did that.
WSJ: Has this been a guiding principle?
Nasser: It's been there my whole life. When you look back on this
business, the automotive business, traditionally, has been a business
where victory, success, was you innovate and design this wonderful
product that people want; you manufacture the product efficiently and
produce it defect free; you ship it to a dealer; you hope the dealer sells
it to excited customers and then success is if you don't see that
customer for three years. That's how most of us in the auto industry
grew up. That is a very transaction-oriented business model. I have
always believed in relationship models.
At the point of sale, you have a bond. You're building loyalty and a
relationship with a customer and their families over a long, long period.
That's the part that never really developed in the automotive industry.
That's where I think the next generation is heading. That's why to
re-emphasize that perspective, we added "Customer is Job One."
"Quality is Job One," that was about defect-free. Now, people expect
that. Now, you have to go to the next generation, and the customer is
WSJ: Sounds like what a lot of businesses say, and it's lip service that
goes out the window. How do you take that well thought out theology
and make it more than just lip service?
Nasser: You have to start with a vision and some values. And then
your actions and behaviors have to follow through. These recent events
have been a catalyst for us -- not only redoubling efforts on our values
and behaviors, but making it abundantly clear that the future revolves
around the customer.
We have hearts and we have minds, and the Ford Motor Company is a
company that has heritage, and it's the magic mix of all of those
emotions. It's a head-set, not a mind-set. A mind-set is just the
rational. The best values and best decisions and best behaviors
represent this magic mix of what you feel is right based on some good
information, based on values, based on your own history and heritage.
That's clearly what you've learned. We've been around 100 years, we've
learned a lot.
Not Enough Data
WSJ: Helen and Tom came to you in May. Then what did you do?
Nasser: We concluded we didn't know enough about what was going
on. Particularly, the engineering community are very data driven. We
didn't have all the data. We tried. We looked at the safety agency data.
We looked at FARS data. We looked at our own hotline data. And there
wasn't every much there. We looked at the overseas situation, and it
wasn't relevant. They were different tires, different conditions, different
maintenance. Venezuela in particular. There was no data.
We then concluded to ask Firestone for this data. You can go to my
hearing testimony, you can hear what I said about that. Don't get me
WSJ: When did you set up the crisis team?
Nasser: That was sometime in early June. And that was set up when I
started to feel we needed to accelerate our knowledge of what was
going on. We are going to get the best minds on this quickly. This was
a full-time job. I wanted a full-time team. We established facilities on the
11th floor of this building.
We wanted to make sure they had best communications, best computer
systems and ready access to all the top management. That was it. We
WSJ: What role did you play?
Nasser: We met once a day, sometimes twice. We had conference calls.
Our discipline on those calls was 100%. Doesn't matter where we were,
we called in. We went through input from our dealers, customers,
engineering analysis, technical data, what was going on with other tire
companies that I had personally spoken to. We had a full agenda.
WSJ: Were you calling up CEOs asking for information?
Nasser: Yeah, they are very sensitive. I called the CEO of Continental
and Goodyear and, also, Michelin. I have spoken to them on several
occasions, individually and together. "Give us all the technical help you
can give us. Give us all the market input you have. Try to help us
understand the data better. And ultimately help our customers by
increasing the production of your tires so we can replace the bad tires
with good tires." So, this dialogue was over an extended period.
WSJ: Still going on?
Nasser: It is.
WSJ: Were you still talking to Firestone?
Nasser: I had several meetings.
WSJ: What kind of message were you delivering in those?
nnnn Nannnnnn Nasser: It varied.
WSJ: You went ahead on your own [in Saudi Arabia and Venezuela]?
Nasser: Those happened last year and those discussions went on on
WSJ: Who made the decisions?
Nasser: It's the world-wide direct markets action.
I looked back on what we decided on, our people, and they were
absolutely right. They said, "Our people aren't happy." And Firestone
said, "We don't think there's a problem. We don't want to do anything
about it." So our people, in frustration, said, "we want to take care of
our customers, so we're going to replace the tires anyhow." And they
WSJ: And they could do that without asking you for the money?
Nasser: Absolutely. That made me feel good. The customer is
paramount in the way we behave. I don't want to portray this as a one
time interest. It really is in the texture of whole decision making
WSJ: In August, you have this team working on data. What time of day
would meetings occur?
Nasser: We had two different times. One in the evening and the
conference calls on weekends would happen around midday.
There was a very disciplined process we went through every meeting.
Structured point-by-point. "What's going on? What have we done
about it?" And we ended every point with, "What else can we do for our
customers?" These weren't number crunching sessions. It was, "Where
are we and what can we do?"
WSJ: What ideas?
Nasser: Originally, Firestone wanted to prioritize shipments of tires to
certain states. During this meeting, we said that isn't customer friendly
--that just isn't right. We decided not to do that. Firestone had limited
replacements to one Firestone for another Firestone. And in one of
these meetings, we said look if we talk to these other competitors,
maybe we can get some added capacity. Firestone had said there isn't
any capacity, which may have been true at that point.
The assignment came out. Can we use our leverage ... can we use our
relationships ... can we appeal to other tire companies ... to help us help
Inglis said it was one of those questions that got him to thinking maybe
we should quit putting 15-inch wheels on these vehicles. And that led
him to the suspension [of production] at three plants.
Calling on Customers
WSJ: What did you see your role as?
Nasser: Maybe this is a little big headed of me, but I view myself as a
champion of the customer. I was there representing the customer... Is
this the best we can do? Is there anything more we can do? Can we do
it faster? Can we do it better? Can we do it in a more friendly way? Are
we putting all of our information out? Is that the way people
communicate? Do we have an open line of communications with our
dealers, suppliers, employees?
WSJ: If you're going to play the role of customer, were you calling up
Nasser: I was looking at chat rooms. I was calling hot lines. I was calling
up customers. I was calling dealers. I was getting a pulse from many
WSJ: You actually called up customers?
Nasser: Customers who had sent in emails, letters, to me. I would talk
WSJ: What kind of insight did you get from these activities?
Nasser: That people trusted the Ford Motor Company. That they
trusted us to do the right thing. They were very loyal to us, and that
touched me a lot. That doubled my energy to insure we didn't let them
down. There was also confusion out there because of many of the
media reports. This is a complicated issue. But it was extremely useful
to hear from our customers first hand.
WSJ: Were there any specific suggestions that you were able to bring
back to the group from these pulse taking sessions?
Nasser: Being able to expand the number of tires. Many customers
would say, "Look, we've gone to the Firestone tire store and they've
told us we have to wait for two months or three months. Yet, I can go
down to Costco, or Belle Tire, and they've got tires. Why can't we do
The other one was a suggestion, "Can you label those [new vehicles on
dealer lots' with good tires as 'not recalled tires,' " and identifying
vehicles that have been recalled with some type of identification.
Inputs like that were very good. And they were quick. This wasn't go
out and do a market research study in the lobby of a hotel. This was
unfiltered, direct input.
This was around-the-clock. We felt speed was important.
WSJ: What's a day in the life of Jac Nasser like these days?
Nasser: I don't have a typical day. I have devoted most of my time to
resolving this issue. In one way or another. So, it has been a very
different work pattern for me.
WSJ: Are you still getting a good solid four hours of sleep?
Nasser: Yeah, I barely made it last night [the night of the hearings].
WSJ: Let me ask policy questions. You said, 'We favor the rollover
index... we favor updating the tire testing regulations... we favor
reporting the overseas actions.' Those kinds of positions you don't take
Nasser: Customer is job one. What do customers want? They want
peace of mind. It's not just reliability. It's about safety. Go back to
January of '98. Cleaner, safer, sooner. How have we acted since then?
We have been ahead of regulation. Whether it's on clean air, whether
it's on fuel economy for SUV's. And we've got more five-star ratings
than any other company. So, those principles that we established back
in late '97 and early '98 are still tattooed into our value system. That's
how we think. That's how we feel. That's how we behave. When people
talk about a better rollover system, standards that would help safety,
standards that would improve the peace of mind of our customers.
We're all for it. We want this to be driven by real world experience. This
is not about esoteric standards that do not improve the actual safety of
our customers on the road.
Once we know that it is valuable for safety that is affordable, you don't
want to be building a bunker. Affordable and practical and we can do it
in numbers that are meaningful so that we can really get some
economies of scale and make it safe for everybody, not just those
people that can afford it. Then, we're at the forefront of it. We haven't
waited for regulation. Our standards for safety, clean air and fuel
economy ... our values there and actions exceed and precede
This has been a very important period for the company because many
of the values that we believe in and cherish were questioned. It was
extremely important for us that the team spirit we had and the team
work we had was invaluable. I have been with the company for 32 years
and I'm as proud now as I've ever been.