Ford Probes COO Over Order to Channel All Ad Biz Via WPP

11 March 2003

Sir Nick Scheele, the British president/chief operating officer at Ford Motor Company, is under internal investigation for possible infringement of company purchasing policies.

It seems Scheele’s recent decision to channel 100% of Ford advertising and marketing activity worldwide through London-headquartered agency holding company WPP Group has raised more than a few eyebrows among his senior colleagues. As has his email sent last month to all Ford marketing bosses across the planet instructing them to toe the WPP partyline.

Seemingly either Scheele or WPP [or both] was not satisfied that around 80% or the motor giant’s marketing business is already shared between J Walter Thompson, Ogilvy & Mather and other WPP units. And at a meeting between Scheele and senior WPP executives in New York last November, it was agreed that the advertising conglomerate would become the sole supplier of Ford’s advertising and marketing services.

Scheele’s son James is employed by the New York office of another WPP unit, Young & Rubicam, albeit not on Ford activities. WPP acquired Y&R in 2000 with Ford’s implicit consent, the primary reason being to increase its business with the auto giant, already WPP’s biggest client and contributing some seven per cent of its gross worldwide revenues.

A Ford spokesperson said the inquiry had been set-up to establish if Scheele’s ruling had been reached in an open and transparent manner: “Did the process that led to this decision adhere to company policy and procedures, or was there some kind of inadvertent circumvention of the policy?”

[The inclusion of the word ‘inadvertent’ in the statement is not likely to be accidental and could imply a prepared soft landing for Scheele – and Ford. Even before the current investigation became public, investors were said to be concerned about tensions within the Ford boardroom.]

Scheele has worked for the US automaker for thirty-seven years, joining in 1966 as a senior buyer at the group’s UK unit. He rapidly climbed the greasy pole and in 1988 directed marketing and manufacturing operations at Ford Mexico, also becoming a bosom buddy of that nation’s president.

From 1992 to 1999, he was chairman/ceo of Ford’s [then] recently acquired Jaguar Cars unit, rising from thence to take the chair at Ford Europe. In August 2001 he became group vice-president, Ford North America and just three months later rose to his present position.

WPP declined to comment on the affair, citing “client confidentiality” as its reason.

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