Ford Motor Co. of Canada employs 6,000 people, works with more than 400 dealerships, and is led by a Hamburg native. Dianne Craig was named president and chief executive officer of Ford of Canada just over two years ago, the latest step in her climb through the automaker’s ranks that started in 1986. Craig (then Carson) graduated from Hamburg High School, and then from Fredonia State College in 1985, and later earned an MBA at Ohio State.
Just before taking her current job, Craig was general manager for Ford’s Southeast U.S. market area, responsible for marketing, sales and service operations for 520 dealers in five states. She is now based in Oakville, Ont., which is also home to a Ford assembly plant supplied with stamped parts from a facility in Hamburg.
Craig, 49, drives a Ford Flex and maintains strong ties to her hometown: her parents still live in the same house in which she grew up. The Canadian auto market is much smaller than the U.S.’s: new-vehicle sales by all brands in Canada in 2012 totaled about 1.67 million, compared to about 14.5 million in the United States. Nevertheless, Ford is No. 1 in sales in Canada, and Craig talked about how she aims to keep her employer on top:
Q: You have had a variety of jobs with Ford. Did you oversee the Buffalo market in any of them?
A: I actually did have a responsibility for the Buffalo market. We have our Pittsburgh regional sales office that covers Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Buffalo, and I was overseeing the Pittsburgh region from 2001 to 2005, so it was – in addition to this (Canada) position – a bit of a homecoming for me. … Growing up in Buffalo and understanding Buffalo from a personal standpoint and then learning it more from a professional standpoint was really quite neat for me.
Q: What was it like being named CEO of Ford of Canada?
A: I moved from Atlanta, where I was in charge of the Southeastern part of the U.S. And the actual sales volumes and the dealer count was very similar to Canada’s. Obviously the geography was very, very different. So I think running the Southeastern part of the U.S. really helped enable me to be ready to run a country. I feel incredibly blessed because I ended up in Canada. I raised my hand to go to many other international markets and for me to end up in Canada, where I’m only an hour and a half from my family in Buffalo. To be able to run a country where we make a significant contribution to the North American business was an incredible honor for me. And the business here in Canada for Ford, especially at the time I took it over, had just for the first time achieved sales leadership in Canada. Now we’re going on our fourth year of leadership. We’re super excited about the Oakville announcement because it obviously has some ties to Buffalo stamping. (Ford is investing $682 million in its Oakville site).
Q: How are the U.S. and Canada auto markets different, apart from their size?
A: The assumption people make, and certainly I made, and even my U.S. colleagues continue to make, is you just assume the markets are the same because we share the border. And they are really very different. Discretionary income in Canada with the tax structure is different than the U.S. and that drives some of the segment sizes. So vehicles like our Ford Focus, that’s about 25 percent of the segment up here for that size of a vehicle, and that’s considerably higher than the U.S. market. The other difference that’s really a concern I think for the industry in Canada is, they have what we call long-term financing. We have about 40 percent of consumers in Canada which basically have a finance term that’s 84 months or longer. That’s significantly longer than the U.S. Then again, it comes down to discretionary income, so people find those longer terms attractive, but I do think that’s going to be a challenge for the industry longer term.
Q: How important is the Oakville plant within Ford of Canada?
A: It’s really important, and that’s why we were really, really proud to announce the investment. Manufacturing obviously is a huge job creator, especially in the U.S. where there’s a manufacturing renaissance happening. I compete with my global colleagues for the investment and obviously I want to keep it here in Oakville. But those decisions are important business decisions when you’re looking at investing upwards of a billion dollars in an assembly plant. What we’re really excited about for Oakville is that it’s going to have a global (production) platform. And that is a really big deal, because it certainly secures the legacy for many, many, many, many years to come. It will be just one of a handful of global platforms that we have and to have that here in Oakville, we are really proud of it.
Q: What is a global platform?
A: It was just about five years ago we introduced flexible manufacturing at the Oakville assembly plant, which was again a pretty big investment. Today we produce the Ford Flex, the Ford Edge, the Lincoln MKX and the Lincoln MKT. And that enabled us to basically “flex” between any one of those four vehicles. If an Edge was hotter than a Flex, then we could (switch). That was a key to actually enabling this investment as well. But this global platform, in the layman’s terms, the underpinnings are the same of the platform, but what we call the “top hat,” which is what the vehicle looks like that sits on top of it, will have multiple versions, and not just one. … Today we ship to 82 countries around the globe out of Oakville. But with this global platform, the amount of vehicles that we’ll be able to ship out of Oakville won’t be the 3,000 or 4,000 that we’re sending to China or Brazil today. It will be many, many thousands. So it’s exciting for the 2,800 people that working there today.
Q: What is the outlook for new vehicle sales in Canada?
A: This will be a record automotive year in Canada in terms of the industry, which is fantastic. (The industry) is expected to sell in Canada about 1,760,000, but it will probably exceed that; the record was (1,703,000) back in 2002. Now compared to the U.S. before the crisis, we were selling about 17 million vehicles annually. You compare to that to basically 1.7 million in Canada, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s a really big deal, because we will have a record industry. ... We continue to see the outlook as being very promising for both the U.S. and Canada in the next couple of years.