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BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE: A PLEA TO MR. FORD
by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Lake Worth, Fla,
LAKE WORTH, Fla. -- Dear Mr. Ford: I heard you are going to visit with Ford Motor Co. investors at various locations around the country this week, and wanted to offer some suggestions - before it's too late.
Ford has a good and proud story to tell, that is, if it's not told before it's too late.
First, let's have full disclosure here. If Ford goes down the tubes, so do I and many of my clients. We were longtime buyers of Ford (NYSE: F), and bought more at $20 per share. Oh, did I mention that we kept buying at $17 and $14, and $12? Well, I'll come really clean: we bought lots more Ford stock at $9, and last week when the quoted price for a few days started with the number "6" we purchased even more.
First, fire all your advertising agencies and get new ones. Do all of the spots yourself, the way Dave Thomas of Wendy's used to do. You know the story, so tell it.
America has only two major auto makers left. Ford is one of them. Americans should support Ford before it's too late.
Around 1900, there were about 96 car manufacturers. By the 1920s there were fewer than 20. Sounds sort of like the Dot-coms, right? Even a guy named Durant who started GM was belly up in his own auto company by 1928.
Success and prosperity are not guaranteed, but Ford can continue to be a success, if it's not too late.
Most kids shopping for their first new car, and most folks leasing another car, don't know about Henry Ford and his little repair shop, or his garage, or his efforts to finance his first factory.
It's an American success story. Tell it proudly and loudly to a new generation, before it's too late.
To lots of Jewish curmudgeons around the condo pools down here in South Florida, Henry Ford was the poster boy for anti-Semitism, deservedly or not. The apocryphal tales abound. Tell these folks that probably most of the gents and ladies sipping highballs in country clubs in 1925 or 1965 were anti-Semites.
Ask them about how many Jews and other immigrants improved their lives - their stores, their sales, their products, because of four generations of quality affordable cars and trucks for the masses? How many of the charities, schools, theaters, museums, and hospitals they DO like, were helped in the past 100 years by endowments and foundations with the Ford name? Go after their business and loyalty.
If they had problems with the Ford name in the past, tell them to get over it, before it's too late.
Tell the American public that if they think that the "too big to fail" mentality will always keep Ford afloat, they are perversely and sadly mistaken. When Chrysler languished at $3 a share, there were powerful union leaders - many in the public sector - with names like Al Shanker, George Meany, Victor Gotbaum, and Jerry Wurf, who rode to the rescue. Their union brothers and sisters and their pension funds had too much to lose.
They unions rallied their reserves, and an organized labor-underwritten bailout became a government bailout, propelling a former Ford executive to international fame.
Those days are over. The days when Continental Illinois Bank was deemed "too big to fail" are over. No one saved Enron. No one is saving K-mart. An attempt to bail out the airline industry has not worked.
Ford fights this one alone, or with its workers and customers, that is, if it's not too late.
And speaking of workers, why not ask the American public whether they would like their kids to work for a company such as Ford, or perhaps for Adelphia Cable, Global Crossing, WorldCom, K-Mart, or Cucamonga Fiber Optics Dot Com Tofutti Fuel Cell Inc.? Tell them about the tens of thousands of Ford workers - from custodians to engineers - who were given, or provided the ability, to have a home computer.
Tell them how a marketing researcher in Sao Paulo, now has a seamless email and computerized communication system, with an econometrics expert in Stockholm, London, or Washington? Ask them whether they should reward innovation and quality with their investment dollars, or hand money to the gurus of hype and swipe? Do they like the sizzle or the steak?
Tell them about your UAW partners, and their ability to support your efforts at labor-management cooperation, before it's too late. Make sure you mention something called the F-150. Tell them that for every Bridgestone-Firestone or "recall" negativity, there are a hundred success stories at Ford. In a world in which touchy feely nostalgia freaks look soulfully at the reincarnation of the VW Beetle, and ego trippers in gated communities want the Lexus logo on their undergarments, it's a Ford truck which holds the all time motor vehicle sales record for most of their adult life! Tell them that I know this wealthy guy who could afford any car, anywhere, any time. He drives his 1996 F-150. It has all of the size, comfort, reliability, and panache he needs. Tell them about the Thunderbird which has risen like the phoenix of the freeway, and turns heads. Talk to the American consumer about two gallant global nameplates - Volvo and Jaguar - which are part of the Ford family. Mention the cradle-to-grave Jaguar care program, and the safety reputation of Volvo. Tell middle class American families that Volvo will remain the only European carmaker to maintain, and expand a European delivery program. Encourage American families to take their first-ever European vacation, drive a new car, and ship it home - all with a free plane ticket and import price discounted from local sticker prices. While on the Jaguar quality concept, why not have an orgasm of transparency? A brilliant coup of marketing? In 20 years of radio broadcasting, and public speaking, I have yet to conduct a poll, or ask an audience, "Would you pay an extra $5,000 to never, ever, pay a cent for auto maintenance again?" in which drivers did not overwhelmingly vote "yes."
Think about it, Mr. Ford. I didn't qualify the question. A kid looking for a $12,000 Ranger, or a soccer mom looking at a loaded $40,000 Expedition. Both of them would pay up a flat, one-time, financed $5,000 fee, to never, ever pay a parts, labor, or "loaner car" fee. They don't want a grease monkey chauffeuring them to the office on the Lolly Trolley while their car is being repaired.
Re-insure the dealer's floor plans for liability, fix their cars for free, and give them a loaner. The Gomer Pyle School of Auto Research shows that "Surrprise! Surrprise!" folks who like the loaner or rental cars often buy them. On an overseas trip I just rented a new Crown Vic for a month and loved it. I've told everyone I know about it.
Shake up the industry, before it's too late.
Tell the American people about the joint venture with Mazda which produced the Ford Escape. Every other manufacturer has tried to copy it. Every urban cowboy can trade up to a V-6, the 16-inch wheels, and even 4WD for about $20,000. Spread the word, before it's too late.
Talk about the rumors that Ford Credit might have deep trouble if Ford bonds are downgraded beneath investment grade. Explain to the American public what happens when they have to go to private finance companies or their not-so-friendly local banker for auto loans. Talk about the farmers, ranchers, commercial outfitters, and millions of other Americans who are on flexible payment schedules, allowing them to make their payments on vehicles critically needed for their livelihoods during the months when they actually have some money.
Name names and case studies, before it's too late.
Take control of your own DRIP (dividend re-investment program), and offer special discounts, coupons, and incentives to small investors. Encourage your youngest and poorest customers to participate in the American dream. Drop all minimum account requirements to a $25 initial investment and as little as $50 a month.
Let Ford become its own paying agent, and co-mingle the DRIP shareholders into the entire spectrum of the Ford Family. Let every American high school kid who would like a shiny new Ford Focus also receive a share of Ford treasury stock as a gift.
Make it patriotic and cool to own shares of Ford, before it's too late.
And, Mr. Ford, while on the subject of financing, rethink Ford's ill-fated attempt of a few years ago to get into the banking and thrift business. Times have changed. Some of the same Washington lobbyists who made Worldcom and Enron household names have destroyed the "Chinese Wall" of the Glass-Steagal Banking Act of 1933.
Citibank now lays off its ridiculous Third World loans in a consortium linked to Travelers Insurance and Salomon Smith Barney. Smith Barney brokers tout overpriced stocks, pumped up by lame analysts reports, to potential IPO customers. Insurance agents have access in the bank lobbies to customers facing low CD rates, and can sell them some insurance products they don't want, and don't really need.
Could a revitalized Ford Bank or Ford Financial Corp. do worse? Isn't there an opportunity to start with the base of employees, union members, retirees, credit union members, customers and suppliers, and provide cost-effective financial and banking services?
It's worth a try, before it's too late.
And what about the union members and their families? Ford reached a two-year agreement with Canadian auto workers last week, averting troubled waters. The news hit one paragraph in some newspapers, and nothing in others. Tell the story of the successful negotiations yourself, before it's too late.
In the age of NAFTA and globalization, the hottest selling car in Mexico is a VW. German? Not really; apparently, it's a VW made in Brazil. American investors who built Ford are tired of reading about the success of a Ford executive in an Australian subsidiary, a plant manager in Brazil, or the tribulations of domestic production and bottom lines in Argentina. Ford makes too little in too many countries whose currency restrictions have turned a transnational leader, into a captive of tinhorn provincial nationalism and restrictive trade.
Maybe it's time for Ford to redirect its transnational efforts to nations whose currencies are pegged to the U.S. dollar or use the dollar as a de facto local currency. Local workers and suppliers should, of course, still profit in their own national domain. But whether it's Coca-Cola, MicroSoft or Ford, structures have to be reinforced which permit some of the local enterprise to accrue to the good will of the ultimate parent.
If a country such as Turkey or Peru is so restrictive as to make it impossible to legally repatriate Ford profits to the United States and U.S. shareholders, then perhaps it's time to carefully review exactly which countries should have their futures tied to Ford infrastructure investments and currency risks.
Isn't it worth a thought, before it's too late?
By now you get the idea. If this were a chain letter, in a week you would have 1,000 pages of amateur experts giving you and your cohorts free advice. The funny thing is that many of their ideas are good ones, and many of their criticisms are correct.
There's time to correct things, before it's too late.
Finally, you and most other Fortune 500 CEO's seem confused by the legalities of the new and enforced rules of ethics and governance. It's a given that "past performance is no guarantee of future results." We're not talking about empty Enron entreaties to have employees dump higher percentages of their 401-k's into Enron stock. We're not talking about Merrill Lynch's recommendations to "buy, accumulate, buy!" while around the coffee machine and in email stock managers snicker about the suckers who follow their advice.
You have a responsibility to report what you believe. I have this deep conviction, and suspicion, that you believe what I believe. Purchase time during NFL games, the World Series, The Sopranos, Days of Our Lives, Smallville, the Super Bowl, MTV, WWF, NASCAR, CNBC, CNN, Bloomberg TV, and Sponge Bob Square Pants. Look the camera in the eye and say:
"If you are a working person who doesn't intend to retire for10 years or more; if you don't have a catastrophic illness, and can take the risk of investing some spare money, then Ford Motor Company has a message for you. Based on what we know about our people and our products, in 10, or 20, or 30 years, no one is going to care whether you paid $20 a share for Ford or $7 a share for Ford. In the scheme of investment cycles and the corporate success in America, we honestly feel you will be very, very, well rewarded.
So, think about investing in Ford, at historically low prices - before it's too late."
Thank you for your time.
Chief Investment Strategist,
Kaplan & Co. Securities, BSE, NASD, SIPC,
Boca Raton, Fla.,
-- signature .
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