Top regional Ford job goes to NZer

A high-flying Kiwi is now responsible for Ford in New Zealand and Australia. Kay Hart has a fascinating brand background.

Kay Hart print.jpg

A NEW Zealander who has been driving Ford’s intent to intensify its electric vehicle offering and investment is now steering the brand’s course in her birth country and Australia.

As president and chief executive officer of Ford New Zealand and Australia, an appointment effective today which makes her the first female to hold the role, Kay Hart - who cut her teeth with Ford marketing in New Zealand – has a huge responsibility.

She replaces Graeme Whickman, a Briton who also started out with the Blue Oval in this country.

Like her predecessor, who has resigned a 20-year stint with Ford for a senior role at GUD Holdings Limited, whose portfolio spans automotive aftermarket product lines and water products, she will be based in Melbourne.

The daughter of John Hart, one of the All Blacks’ most celebrated coaches, Kay Hart has enjoyed a meteoric career with Ford since starting out in the brand’s New Zealand marketing department in 1998.

She comes back to familiar turf direct from a key role with ‘Team Edison’, an internal group announced last October and charged with intensifying Ford’s its investments in battery all-electric vehicles, paying particular attention to technology reach and autonomous options.

Team Edison’s primary remit has been to bring the brand’s EV effort up to speed through focus on efforts in technology, product development, marketing and advanced manufacturing. It brought leaders from all major areas of the company together to figure out strategy, plans and vehicle offerings.

Hart’s job as as global manager for the battery electric vehicle programme has been an especially key role.

While Ford was an early leader along with Toyota in fielding hybrid electric vehicles, it has come to lag competitors with fully electric models. Though intent is to bring out a fully electric, small SUV with a range of almost 500kms by 2020, its only EV has been a version of the Ford Focus, a variant that has now ended production.

Ford NZ has never had an EV on sale here but has been trialling a battery Focus with an Auckland energy company and has expressed desire for the 2020 car, whose development name has been Mach 1.

Ford says Hart has been responsible for driving the transformation of the brand’s “future customer experience across the globe.”

The company says that during her time as Advanced Consumer Experience Marketing Manager, Hart led innovations such as FordPass – the company’s one-stop app that delivers solutions aimed at helping consumers get the most out of their vehicle ownership experience.

The 40-year-old has also worked in a number of positions at Ford, including managing director for Ford Philippines from 2013 to 2015. In that role, she directed the successful product-led transformation of Ford’s business in the Philippines through the introduction of class-leading vehicles and the expansion of the Ford dealer network in the country.

The change at the top was announced today by Ford Motor Company.

The Dearborn-based brand said the handover is part of senior leadership team changes in Australia as the firm “continues its transformation in Australia and New Zealand.”

Hart said she is excited by her new role and the opportunity to “work with such a strong and accomplished Ford Australia and New Zealand team.

“I’m looking forward to working with our dealers and team to continue the great progress that has been made in the consumer experience and helping accelerate growth across the business.”

In this role, she will be responsible for Ford’s National Sales Company in Australia and New Zealand, including marketing, sales and service, dealer relations, customer satisfaction and sales performance.

An announcement from Ford said she “will continue to lead the transformation of Ford’s business, including the work to revamp the consumer and dealer experience.”

Hart will report to Peter Fleet, Ford group vice president and president, Ford Asia Pacific.

“Kay is a proven leader, highly motivated by consumer insights and dealer relations,” said Fleet.

“She has broad experience across the company and around the globe. With strong knowledge and relationships in Australia and New Zealand, Kay will be a wonderful addition to our leadership team and a strong advocate for our customers and dealers.”

Whickman held a variety of marketing and sales positions in the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific. He also oversaw cessation of Ford Australia’s car assembly operation, an undertaking he conceded presented significant emotional drain. His hardest day: Turning off the lights at the massive Broadmeadows Melbourne plant, which produced the Falcon, on October 7, 2016.

He joined Ford in 1997 as a zone manager in Ford New Zealand after working for Coca-Cola in New Zealand and Hertz Rent A Car in the United Kingdom.

“Graeme has enjoyed an accomplished career at Ford,” said Fleet. “He has been instrumental in significant efforts around the globe including Canada, China and most recently, leading the transformation of Ford’s business in Australia and New Zealand.”

 “I know I leave a much stronger Ford Australia and New Zealand than only a few years ago, a company that has a strong and vibrant future,” said Whickman.

“The industry is undergoing rapid change, and I have confidence the local leadership teams have the right plans in place to be successful.

“They will continue to be held up in the Global Ford world as great examples of what happens when good, focused strategies are supported by committed and skilful employees and dealers.”