Ford Unit's First Black President

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As Hazel climbed Ford’s corporate ladder, there were many firsts as an African American in his storied career. But Hazel’s humility keeps him solidly anchored to the ground.

When the group vice president of Ford Motor Company’s North American marketing, sales and service organization abruptly resigned in April, it sent Ford’s top dogs scrambling to find a replacement. Rather than go outside the company, they turned inward to a veteran executive to fill the slot. That set off a round of musical chairs and when it was over Darryl Hazel was president of Ford Division and the first African American to hold the job.

Hazel is more than qualified to handle one of the most prized jobs at Ford. At 56, he is a Ford lifer, having joined the company as a sales analyst in 1972 straight out of college, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics. What’s more, Hazel served as the president of the Lincoln Mercury Division before sliding over to head the much larger Ford. He is only the second person to head both of Ford Motor Co.’s major divisions, as well as its mammoth customer service division.

As Hazel climbed Ford’s corporate ladder, there were many firsts as an African American in his storied career. But Hazel’s humility keeps him solidly anchored to the ground. “I view these jobs as public service,� he told AAOW. “You get asked to serve, you do.� Born in Harlem, Hazel has been married for 27 years, has two children and plays bridge online because that’s all he’s got time to do. “With the Blackberry, the cell phone and what have you, this is a 24-7 kind of proposition,� he says.

But make no mistake about it, heading Ford is not the culmination of Hazel’s career. He’s got a lot of heavy lifting to do. Ford has been the best selling brand in the United States for more than 20 years. But sales have been slipping, and for the first time in a generation, Ford could be supplanted by Chevrolet or Toyota as the best-selling brand. “My measure of success is going to be real simple,� Hazel says, “were we able to turn that around?�

Hazel is well positioned to stop the slide. He has worked his way up literally from the bottom of the sales organization. In short, he knows the business, the company and its dealers. Hazel even spent some time in product development. He described himself as non-reactionary with an intellectual dispassionate perspective, yet he’s able to respond to the day-to-day sales issues that arise. “In other words,� he says, “since I’ve been here so long a lot of what happens I’ve seen.�
What he sees in Ford’s future is a pumped up dealer body selling a lot more cars than it used to. Hazel said Ford dealers are his distinct advantage over the competition. "They are pillars of their communities. Wherever you go in America, you’re not far from a Ford dealer."

 


 

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