Nonexecutive chairman, Polaroid Corporation
Born: December 27, 1947, in Amyoun, Lebanon.
Education: Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, business degree.
Family: Son of Abdo Nasser (independent businessman); married Jennifer (homemaker and philanthropist; maiden name unknown), 1970 (divorced 2000); children: four.
Career: Ford of Australia, 1968–1973, financial analyst; Ford Motor Company, North American Truck operations, 1974–?, financial staff; Asia-Pacific and Latin American operations, 1970s–1987, financial staff; Ford of Brazil and Ford of Argentina Autolatina, 1987–1990, vice president for finance and administration; Ford of Australia, 1990–1993, president and chief executive officer; Ford of Europe, 1993–1996, chairman; Ford Motor Company, 1993–1996, vice president; Ford of Europe, 1996–1999, chairman; Ford Motor Company, automotive operations, 1996–1999, executive vice president; 1999–2001, president and chief executive officer; Polaroid Corporation, 2002–, nonexecutive chairman; One Equity Partners, Bank One Corporation, 2002–, senior partner; Allianz, 2002–, international adviser.
Awards: Automobile Industries Man of the Year, Retail Motor Industry Organization, 1999; National Order of the Cedar, Lebanon, 2002; Order of Australia, Governor-General of Australia, 2002.
Address: Polaroid, 1265 Main Street, Waltham, Massachusetts 02451; http://www.polaroid.com/index.jsp.
■ Jacques Nasser spent 1999 to 2001 as president and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Company, the automobile maker founded by Henry Ford and one of the best-known companies in the world. Nasser planned to transform Ford by changing its focus from automotive products to consumer goods while emphasizing global competitiveness. He was unable to reverse Ford's steady loss of market share in its core business and could not save the company from a product safety scandal. Nasser's harsh human resources policies antagonized Ford workers and their family members and contributed to his dismissal.
Born in Lebanon, Nasser moved with his family to Melbourne, Australia, at the age of four. His olive skin marked him as an outsider in an Australia unfriendly to immigrants. The experience of prejudice reinforced Nasser's ambition to succeed while imbuing him with a resistance to being bound by tradition. It would also later make him sensitive to the problems of women and minorities. Despite the difficulties in Australia, Nasser began to thrive as an entrepreneur. He spent his teenage years starting businesses, including a bicycle-making operation and a discotheque. His first professional experience came as a student intern at Ford of Australia. After being graduated from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology with a degree in business, Nasser joined Ford as a financial analyst.
Gregarious, energetic, and persistent, Nasser moved rapidly through the ranks of Ford. He held positions in Australia, Thailand, the Philippines, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and Europe by displaying wizardry with cost cutting. This global experience and leadership strength made Nasser an appealing choice for a company looking to expand its reach around the world. To almost universal acclaim, Nasser in 1999 was named president and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Company. Robert A. Lutz, vice chairman of rival Chrysler, categorized Nasser as a "brilliant automotive executive and unconventional thinker" before adding, "They'd be crazy not to give him the top job" (Zesiger, June 22, 1998). At the time Ford had 370,000 employees in two hundred countries, sales and revenues of $143 billion, record earnings of $6.6 billion, and a stock price of $65 per share.
Despite its success Ford had lost a considerable amount of market share by the 1990s. Nasser immediately began to streamline the company in an effort to create a giant that responded quickly to consumers. Nasser closed money-losing plants, discontinued models that did not generate adequate profits, sold unprofitable operations, and weeded out executives. He also instituted a human resources policy mandating that 10 percent of workers receive a "C" grade that could lead to termination. Nasser argued that new people, new philosophies, and new technologies were required to assure Ford's success in the new economy. Ford employees unflatteringly gave Nasser the nickname "Jac the Knife."
Contrary to later complaints that he spent little time on the core car business, Nasser aimed to reinvigorate Ford's passenger car market. But Ford made most of its profits from trucks, and Nasser struggled to hold market share in the face of stiff Japanese competition. During his reign, Nasser oversaw the growth and acquisition of Jaguar, Aston Martin, Volvo, Land Rover, and Hertz. He added strength to Ford's light truck and sport utility vehicles and oversaw successes with the introduction of the Ford Ka and the Ford Focus as well as the sporty, two-seater Thunderbird.
Along with brand and product development, Nasser focused on global competitiveness, closer connections to the consumer, increased diversity, and leadership development. He envisioned Ford not only as the potential leader in the world car market but also as a provider of rental vehicles, auto repair, and satellite radio. To facilitate communication and market awareness, Nasser instituted a program that provided home computers and Internet access to employees. Workers gained the power, in a very hierarchical company, to make decisions both small and large. Nasser also launched his own affirmative action program, ensuring that 30 percent of new employees came from minority groups.
Nasser's greatest challenge came in 2000 when Ford's flag-ship four-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle, the Explorer, was involved in numerous rollover accidents. Two hundred deaths were ultimately linked to the Firestone Wilderness AT tires that were standard issue on the vehicle. Firestone recalled 6.5 million tires, and Ford committed itself to replace millions more. Nasser defended the integrity of Ford, even appearing in television commercials to protect the long-term corporate reputation of the company and its employees. In the short term, the company reported its first consecutive quarterly losses in nearly a decade.
While the Explorer debacle soured Ford's fortunes and contributed to Nasser's removal in October 2001, plummeting employee morale was the factor that ensured his dismissal. The Ford family controlled 40 percent of the company stock and had a paternal attitude toward employees. The family had serious disagreements with Nasser over his draconian personnel evaluation methods and the resulting employee lawsuits. When he replaced Nasser as CEO, William Ford Jr. announced that his first task would be healing the company.
Although he was fired, Nasser regarded his Ford days as a positive experience because of the friends he made and lessons that he learned. In 2002 Nasser became a senior partner in One Equity Partners, the private equity business of Bank One Corporation. He bore responsibility for identifying, evaluating, and implementing direct equity investments in various industries around the world. An affiliate of One Equity acquired Polaroid, the instant-imaging camera giant, in July 2002, following the company's voluntary bankruptcy filing in 2001. Nasser became the nonexecutive chairman of Polaroid. He also served on the boards of a number of companies, including Allianz, British Sky Broadcasting Group, and BuyTV.
See also entries on Ford Motor Company and Polaroid Corporation in International Directory of Company Histories .
Collins, Luke, "Out But Not Down," Australian Financial Review , July 11, 2003, pp. 34–38.
Nasser, Jacques A., "Next Frontiers of Globalization," in Wisdom of the CEO , edited by G. William Dauphinais, Grady Means, and Colin Price, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2000.
Shaw, Robert, "A Passion for the Business: An Interview with Jacques Nasser," in On High-Performance Organizations , edited by Frances Hesselbein and Rob Johnston, San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, 2002.
Zesiger, Sue, "Jac Nasser is Car Crazy," Fortune , June 22, 1998, pp. 79–81.
—Caryn E. Neumann