Ford Europe Ex-Boss Sues Company for Blocking Fiat Job

20 November 2003

All is not sweetness and light in the upper echelons of the Ford Motor Company, it would appear.

The US car giant -- number three by world sales after Japan's Toyota accelerated past it in Q3 -- has been beset for months by rumours of management turmoil. A state of affairs seemingly confirmed by a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Michigan, USA, by Martin Leach, former president/coo of lossmaking Ford Europe.

In a claim for up to €60 million ($71.60m; £42.16m) in damages, Leach alleges the company publicly and erroneously announced his resignation, then blocked him from working for a competitor, Fiat Auto.

According to documents filed by Leach, Ford had been trying to "push him out" of his job as head of the European division. He claims he was locked-out of important meetings and had his credibility questioned by the company's senior executives.

After realising there was a move to oust him, Leach says he discussed with fellow Ford directors -- specifically the company's head of human resources and David Thursfield, head of international operations -- a job offer from Fiat claimed to be worth €20m in signing bonus and salary over the first five years.

Leach told the duo he would be happy to leave if Ford would release him from his non-compete agreement. The following day, he claims, Thursfield announced that he had "assumed" Leach to have resigned, later issuing a press release to that effect. Ford strenuously denied it had harried him out of office.

Furthermore, the company is said to have threatened both Leach and Fiat with legal action if he accepted the job offer, which later was accepted by Herbert Demel, a former VW executive.

Leach's lawyers hope to get a preliminary hearing within the next fourteen days to force Ford to lift the non-compete clause. The damages claim, however, is unlikely to be heard before next spring.

Said a terse Ford statement: "We don't comment on pending litigation."

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff