In this segment of the Motley Fool Money radio show, host Chris Hill, Motley Fool Explorer's Simon Erickson, Supernova and Rule Breakers' David Kretzmann, and Motley Fool Pro and Options' Jeff Fischer reflect on the ouster of Mark Fields as CEO of Ford Motor (NYSE:F), replaced by Jim Hackett. The automaker is likely to double down and accelerate its autonomous vehicle efforts, but regardless, Hackett -- a relative outsider to the industry -- has a hard road ahead.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on May 26, 2017.
Chris Hill: We begin with a shake-up in the automotive industry. After just three years in the corner office, Mark Fields is out as the CEO of Ford Motor Company. The board is replacing him with Jim Hackett, who most recently has been heading up Ford's smart mobility division. Simon, I think it's fair to say Mr. Hackett has quite a task ahead of himself. What do we know about this guy?
Simon Erickson: Three words, Chris: self-driving cars. That's going to be the future for Ford here, I think. And I think there's a lot of impatience that Ford is falling behind a lot of the other automakers for mobility. We've seen GM invest $1 billion last year into Cruise Automation, self-driving cars. We saw Chrysler teaming up with Google's Waymo self-driving cars. Ford has said this is important and a strategic priority, but we just haven't seen the progress that shareholders wanted to, so they put Jim Hackett, who's done a lot of great work with Steelcase before, with the University of Michigan before. He's a very design-focused guy, tackling big problems. I think he's the right guy for the job, I would applaud this move.
Hill: He does have success, David, although I think some people are looking at him and saying, his experience is not exactly in the automotive industry. But maybe that's a plus in this situation.
David Kretzmann: I think so. Having an outsider coming in can be an advantage in some cases. And Ford is still in a pretty strong financial position. I think their free cash flow is around $12 billion or so. So, they're in a position where they're producing a lot of cash. And how they direct it, I think Simon is right on the money there, that they need to focus on that innovation in autonomous driving, self-driving cars, electric cars. And it seems like that's where his focus is.
Hill: The stock down 40%, while Fields was the CEO, in three years. Do you think, on some level, Hackett realizes that the stock price is going to be part of how he's judged here, Jeff?
Jeff Fischer: They just couldn't get any respect in the marketplace. They grew earnings over that period. The stock trades at a very inexpensive price of seven times forwards earnings estimates, and a low multiple to free cash flow as well. It has a large yield, but there's just no respect for the business. I wonder how much of that is the fear or acknowledgement that the pace of change is speeding up.
Hill: There was nowhere else for him to go.
Erickson: It's perfect.
Fischer: Faster than I can compute what I just said. If you're not on top of that, you're going to get discounted in the marketplace.
Erickson: I mean, the market has put the brakes on this company in the past couple years. Eleven times earnings, it's now paying a 5.5% dividend. If you think Hackett can turn things around with Ford, you are buying shares pretty cheap right now.