Chief Operating Officer of the Americas for Ford Motor Company
Born c. 1949 in Reading; PA; married Bill Stevens (a retired auto supplier manager), c. 1968; children: two. Education: Earned dual B.S. in mechanical and materials engineering, Drexel University, 1980; completed graduate work at Rutgers University.
Addresses: Office —Ford Motor Company, The American Rd., Dearborn, MI 48121.
Held engineering, manufacturing, and marketing positions with ExxonMobil Corporation, c. 1981-89; joined Ford Motor Company as a marketing specialist in the plastic products division, 1990; manager in plastic and trim products operations, 1992-95; manufacturing manager, plastic and trim products operations, 1995; plant manager at Ford's Enfield, England, automotive components division, 1995-97; assistant vehicle line director of the company's small car vehicle center in Dunton, England, 1997-99; director of manufacturing business office for Ford in North America, 1999-2000; vice president for North American manufacturing, after April of 2001, and vice president for North American vehicle operations, after July of 2001; group vice president for Canada, Mexico, and South America, 2003-05; named chief operating officer of the Americas, October, 2005.
Anne Stevens is the highest-ranking woman in the United States automotive industry. As executive vice president and chief operating officer for Ford Motor Company's North and South American divisions, she was instrumental in drafting a reorganization plan that would help the struggling domestic automaker survive into a third century. Not long afterward, Motor Trend put Stevens on its annual "Power List" of the 50 most influential people in the car business. She was one of just two women to appear on it, but she also regularly makes the Fortune magazine rankings of the most powerful women among the ranks of corporate America.
Born around the midpoint of the twentieth century, Stevens grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania, and fell in love with car culture in her teens. She was particularly drawn to stock-car racing, but it was a different era, and women were not allowed anywhere near "the pits," the chaos-filled bays where mechanics serviced cars between laps. But Stevens disguised herself in a baggy shirt, trousers, and with her hair under a cap, and managed to get a close-up look at the dragsters. "If you looked dirty, they didn't bother you," she recalled in an interview with Micheline Maynard of the New York Times.
Stevens was offered a nursing school scholarship, but soon discovered she was ill-matched for a career in medicine. She dropped out, and went to work for the local telephone company. After scoring well on an aptitude test, she was given a job with the engineering department, and eventually met her future husband there. After starting a family, both went to college together, with Stevens graduating from Drexel University in 1980 with a dual degree in mechanical and materials engineering. She worked a summer job at a Ford stamping plant near Detroit, which she liked, but she had eleven job offers when she graduated, and accepted one with ExxonMobil, the oil company, which put her and her family in New Jersey.
After one of Stevens' friends died in a car accident, she began to reconsider some of her career options. She decided to enroll in a graduate business degree program at Rutgers University, where she learned about the factory-management principles of W. Edwards Deming. Deming's theories were widely used in Japan after World War II, and finally began to catch on with American manufacturers in the 1980s. When she was offered a job with Ford Motor Company in the Detroit area in 1990, she took it, and began as a marketing specialist for its plastic products division. Two years later, she was moved over to Ford's plastic and trim plant in Saline, Michigan, and by 1995 had become a full-fledged manager of a manufacturing job site. That same year, the company sent her to manage its automotive components plant in Enfield, England, where she spent the next two years. She was the first woman ever to manage one of Ford's European factories.
In 1997, Stevens advanced to the title of assistant vehicle line director with Ford's small car vehicle center in Dunton, England, which made the popular Fiesta, Ka, and Puma models for the European market. She returned to Detroit in 1999, when she was named director of the manufacturing business office for Ford in North America. At the time, she was considered to be the highest-ranking female executive among American automakers. In April of 2001, she became vice president for North American manufacturing, capping what had been an impressive decade-long rise through Ford management ranks. While other women had attained top leadership posts in the auto industry, it was rare for one to oversee a manufacturing division, an area still dominated by men who had served as plant managers once before, too.
In July of 2001, Stevens was made vice president for North American vehicle operations, which put in her charge of 29 manufacturing sites for the company. Her task was to improve plant performance, and ensure that the company's quality standards were being met across the board. Two years later, she became group vice president for Canada, Mexico, and South America, and once again, made company history: she was the first woman to hold the group vice president title at Ford. The improved performance under her watch—sales and export numbers rose in 2004, and Ford even made a profit in South America for the first time in several years— prompted the business and automotive press to cite her as a name to watch in the future.
Stevens emerged as a leader at Ford during one of the automaker's most troubled periods. Since the start of the twenty-first century, its vehicles' reputation for quality and safety had suffered, and it was steadily losing market share. Its chief executive officer, Bill Ford Jr., was the high-profile great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford, and began to take some drastic steps to steer the company clear of further financial trouble. He was said to have given Stevens a relatively free decision-making rein when she became chief operating officer of the Americas in October of 2005—a degree of autonomy not always granted in family-run companies, nor in the automotive industry in general.
Bill Ford teamed Stevens with Mark Fields, whose job title was president of the Americas, and gave them the task of coming up with a reorganization plan to save the automaker. Ford's board of directors approved it in December of 2005, and its details were announced the following month. It included a number of plant closings, the elimination of a few vehicle lines, and a reduction in the North American workforce by 28 percent over the next several years.
Named to the No. 22 spot on Fortune magazine's list of the 50 most powerful women in business in America in 2005, Stevens has worked to help other women at Ford follow her up the corporate ladder. She began a women's networking group when she was based in England, and later founded an informal group of female executives who met regularly at a local restaurant near Ford's World Headquarters in Dearborn. There, every few weeks, they met to talk shop, and venture their own off-the-record comments about what the company could be doing better. As Stevens admitted in an interview with Automotive News, writer Amy Wilson, she and her female colleagues had already "reorganized the companymany times," at least in theory.
Automotive News, April 3, 2000, p. 3; September 11, 2000, p. 27W; September 26, 2005, p. 24; October 17, 2005, p. 48; November 21, 2005, p. 1.
New York Times, July 22, 2001, p. BU2.
Ward's Auto World, April 1996, p. 38.
— Carol Brennan