When Mark Fields became president of Mazda in December 1999, he seemed like the kind of American who would try to bulldoze through Japan's porcelain corporate culture--and slink home in frustration. A native New Yorker with a Harvard M.B.A., he appeared slick, headstrong and inexperienced. At 38 he was Mazda's youngest president ever--younger, in fact, than the average employee. He wore sharp suits (and still does). He had a habit of speaking in marketing lingo (which he no longer does). And like most foreigners in Japan, he committed the occasional faux pas. At one of his first dinners out with executives, he poured his own beer--a no-no among Japanese businessmen.
Yet Fields, who moved to Japan with his wife and two sons, proved adept at turning around an entrenched Japanese bureaucracy. Under his direction, Mazda was transformed from a floundering money loser to an automaker with net income of $66 million in its past fiscal year. Analysts hailed Fields as the next Carlos Ghosn--the executive who led Nissan's dramatic turnaround. Fields' bosses at Ford, which owns a controlling stake in Mazda, were so impressed that they handed him a bigger job: turbocharging Ford's troubled Premier Automotive Group (PAG), made up of Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo.
This month Fields is scheduled to start working out of the group's London headquarters. His mission: to increase PAG's net income ninefold, from an estimated $250 million to $2.3 billion by 2006. Achieving that goal will be no lay-up. With the exception of Jaguar--up 12%--PAG's sales were anemic last year compared with those of BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, which sizzled with hot offerings. PAG's sales are up so far this year, but its British vehicles still lag in quality: in the most recent "initial quality" survey by J.D. Power and Associates, Jaguar ranked 19th, behind Chevrolet and Pontiac; and Land Rover, at 32nd, stood behind such econo-box makers as Dodge and Hyundai. Fields will have to work his magic mostly by boosting efficiency and trimming costs through further sharing of parts and platforms across the brands--without jeopardizing each one's purebred appeal.
Is Fields up to the task? He certainly conveys a zoom-zoom work ethic. A graduate of Rutgers University with an economics degree, he usually hits the office by 6 a.m. and closes his days with 10 p.m. weight lifting and a two-mile run. He likes to drive fast too. At Mazda he skipped the chauffeur service in favor of a red RX-7 sports car. At PAG, though, he says he will forgo the Aston Martin: "We need to look for every efficiency, and driving an Aston wouldn't set a good example."
Fields comes with a reputation as a cost cutter and fix-it guy. Before taking over Mazda, he spent two years in Argentina restoring a troubled Ford operation to profitability. At Mazda, where he started as sales and marketing senior adviser, he found a remarkably inefficient bureaucracy. Shortly after arriving, he requested a report on Japan's domestic-car market. Three days later, a tome the size of the New York City phone book, and about as illuminating, appeared on his desk. "Its conclusions were severely lacking," Fields says. "Our investment bankers knew more about our business than some of our directors."