Ford’s new North America chief targets 10% margins

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DETROIT — Lisa Drake guided the launch of Ford Motor Co.’s most profitable vehicle, the F-150 pickup, when the Dearborn Truck Plant opened in 2004.

Starting next month, as Ford’s new North America COO, Drake will be tasked with guiding the automaker back to double-digit margins in its most profitable business region.

Drake, 47, was promoted to the newly created role last week as part of a shakeup of Ford’s North American leadership team aimed at improving operational execution. Drake, who will retain her previous duties as vice president of global purchasing, will report to Kumar Galhotra, who is now Ford’s president of the Americas and the International Markets Group.

Ford, in a statement, said Drake will “bring enhanced focus to product launches, warranty cost reduction and material cost improvements.”

Those areas were weaknesses last year that led to a disappointing fourth quarter and dinged the company’s full-year profits.

She also will lead Ford’s charge to increase its North American operating margin to 10 percent. Ford has used “return to 10” as a rallying cry in recent years but has not put a time frame on when it might accomplish that goal.

Drake, who was a 2018 Automotive News Rising Star, joined Ford in 1994 after earning a mechanical engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon University. She has worked on product development teams for the Lincoln MKC and Navigator and the Ford Ranger, Explorer, Expedition and Super Duty, as well as some of Ford’s early hybrid vehicles, including the Fusion, MKZ and C-Max. She led development of the Focus Electric and Transit Connect Electric.

“There’s something that gets in your blood when you work at Ford,” she told Automotive News in 2018. “The funny thing was, between the truck and hybrid team, it’s the same feeling — the feeling that you’re working on these products that are so distinctly designed to help people in their work and in their lives.”

Drake said she got her big break in 2004, when she led the product and launch team for the 11th-generation F-150 during construction of the Dearborn Truck Plant at the Ford Rouge Center.

“I got an appreciation of what it takes for the manufacturing arm to build a plant, train a work force and make trucks every minute,” she said in 2018.

Drake joined Ford’s purchasing team in 2013 and was named vice president of global purchasing in 2017. In that role, Drake is responsible for all management procurement functions. Ford COO Jim Farley praised Drake in a recent interview with Automotive News, noting that the purchasing team was under added pressure to save money as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are moving with a renewed sense of urgency to improve the fitness of the business and improve our launches, while at the same time modernizing Ford in a way that plays to our strengths,” Farley said in Ford’s statement last week. “That means putting the right team of global leaders in place, streamlining the way we work, embracing the power of connectivity, data and AI, and turning our leadership in commercial vehicles into a dedicated growth business.”

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Saurabh Shukla

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