Goodbye and good luck Michael!

27/10/2012 - 19:24 | Ford | Shrawan Raja

To us, there are two adorded and high-powered Micheals from the world of cars signing off this year. The first one announced his retirement on October 4, much to our disappointment.

Ford's Michael Boneham at the unveiling of the Ford Figo

Michael Schumacher said that he will hang up his helmet at the end of this year's Formula 1 season after three not very successful years with the Mercedes AMG Petronas racing team.

In his second career in the cockpit, Schumacher has added just one pole position in qualifying and a single podium finish to that spectacular report card overflowing with race wins and qualifying poles from his Benetton and Ferrari years. No Formula 1 driver in history has had the success of Schumacher.

However his contribution in developing the Mercedes race car for Lewis Hamilton to take over next year may have been his biggest and possibly the best contribution as a team man. If his successor Lewis Hamilton wins the championship in 2014, which many believe he will, Schumacher should be given an equally big paycheck and trophy to take home!

The second Michael may not be driving a fast car or wearing a racing suit everyday to work, but Michael Boneham has prepared a launch pad, much like the German driver, for his company to be a formidable challenger later in this decade. Ford India announced this week that Michael Boneham, Ford India's president and managing director, has elected to retire at the end of the year. Boneham spent the last 27 years working for Ford in various capacities. His first assignment in Ford was at the Human Resource office in Ford Australia. He subsequently took up manufacturing and general management roles in Europe, North America and APA.

In India, he began working as the executive director in Ford's manufacturing facility in Chennai. In June 2008, he received a promotion to lead Ford India's foray into new segments as its president and managing director.

I'm going to recount some of my meetings and interactions with Boneham in this blog post.

Boneham's biggest feat in his 4.5 year stint at the top is the launch of the Figo, the truly game-changing vehicle for Ford India. My first interaction with Boneham was at the unveiling of the Figo back in September 2009. Boneham was visibly nervous and he had to be. This was Ford India's biggest event since they entered India through a joint venture with Mahindra in the mid-90's. At the end of his presentation, a tensed Boneham called out Mr. Alan Mulally to the stage as "new president" instead of "Ford's president" only to be thanked by a jovial Mulally who is one of the few CEOs in the auto industry that I know who can take a joke.

At the end of the day's event, Mulally approved of the work Michael and his team were doing. And 2.3 lakh Indian customers have joined Mulally since then.

My second interaction with Boneham was at the media night of the Figo deep-dive program in Goa in January 2010. Not many car manufacturers in India had understood how online media could spread the word throughout the world within hours of an event. Boneham walked up to me and asked what I thought about the Figo. In our first real interaction I didn't miss the chance to ask him about the various global models, about the Figo's future variants and then finally slipped in a question about electric cars. I learned that the internal combustion engine is staying as the priority for future Ford models (in India). He turned away to meet other guests whispering to me that technologies "like Ecoboost" are the future.

My third interaction with Boneham came at the unveiling of the Fiesta at a shopping mall in New Delhi in April 2011. Boneham said the cars destined for India will all be built on the B-, C- and CD-Platforms and didn't share my enthusiasm of giving the Figo a 1.6L engine and racing stripes as a limited edition model.

My fourth interaction with Boneham was during the ground breaking ceremony at the Gujarat site for a $1 billion manufacturing plant in August 2011. Ford invited only a select few from the media, and I was there with them on that special morning to see them all wearing a red turban and tilling the ground with a giant shovel! Later that day Boneham said he'll bring cars to India that can be useful in building market share and usable by Indians before introducing premium brands or halo cars.

Boneham sounded bullish about the Figo's untapped potential in export markets when I last met him at the 400,000th engine roll-out celebrations a few months ago. Out of the 35 markets Ford India exports to, Mexico and South Africa were volume boosters, he said, and promised to launch "something similar to the Fiesta Classic" with the Figo during the festive season. In these four years his understanding of the Indian market is its a value market. He said the customer is buying into the idea of value, and not a low price.

Joe Hinrichs, Ford group vice president and president, Asia Pacific and Africa, released this statement on Boneham's decision to head into retirement -

His (Boneham's) strategic direction over the past few years has better positioned our India operations for continued future success. We truly appreciate Michael’s contribution to Ford Motor Company and wish him and his family all the very best!

Michael, thank you for supporting the online media and bloggers like me through these last three years. I wish you loads of fun and happiness as now you will have time to do the things you always wanted to do!

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