There's also the question of whether the changes Ford is making will stick. "Your strategic planning or your product portfolio or your leadership--if any of that derails, then your whole attempt to change the organization and to change IT can get derailed," says Koslowski. Ford faced similar challenges during the auto recession of the 1980s--losing billions, squandering market share. Corporate leaders avoided bankruptcy through cost cutting, a focus on quality and introduction of the best-selling Taurus. The changes didn't last; after a few years, Ford returned its roots.
"The forces of tradition are like 500-mile-per-hour headwinds," says Kotter. "Often what happens is a new CEO comes in and makes what seems to be a huge change in a gigantic company over four or five years," says Kotter. "But if it hasn't been made to stick, guess what? Everyone starts slipping back into the old ways of doing business and the great turnaround doesn't last."
Cole, however, believes Ford is unlikely to backtrack this time. "It's like surviving a near-death experience. It's focused them on what they should do," he says.
Smither isn't worried. "I think staying focused on the One Ford plan, and taking decisive action to make sure we matched capacity with demand while leveraging our global scale, is what allowed us to survive," says Smither. "And the same is true for IT. At this point we continue to be laser focused not just on integrating Ford but figuring out how we can continue to grow profitably in the future."
The restructuring process, he says, has been invigorating. "I have always told people that a career in IT is a career in change management. But no one--no one--could have anticipated this level of change," he says.
"I know people massively fear change, and it's been challenging. But I also think it's been motivating and constructive, and I think my team would view it the same way. You always see it differently coming out than you do going in."