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Ford ousts top exec over ‘inappropriate behavior’

Ford Executive Vice President Raj Nair addresses the North American International Auto show in Detroit on Jan. 9, 2017. (Associated Press)
By Dee-Ann Durbin Associated Press

DETROIT – Ford Motor Co. has ousted one of its top executives over allegations of inappropriate behavior.

North America President Raj Nair is leaving the company effective immediately, Ford said in a statement. His replacement has not yet been named.

Ford officials would not specify what behavior led to Nair’s departure. Ford investigated after a recent anonymous complaint about Nair was made to the company’s 24-hour hotline.

“We made this decision after a thorough review and careful consideration,” said Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett in the statement. “Ford is deeply committed to providing and nurturing a safe and respectful culture and we expect our leaders to fully uphold these values.”

Nair expressed regret in a statement distributed by Ford.

“There have been instances where I have not exhibited leadership behaviors consistent with the principles that the company and I have always espoused,” Nair said.

Nair said he had nothing to add to that statement when reached by phone Wednesday by the Associated Press.

Nair joins numerous business leaders who have been fired or have resigned in recent months because of inappropriate behavior in the workplace. Casino magnate Steve Wynn resigned from his company earlier this month because of sexual misconduct claims. Omeed Malik, a managing director at Bank of America, resigned in January over a sexual misconduct claim.

Hackett, who joined Ford last May, warned employees at the end of last year that Ford had no tolerance for misconduct after The New York Times documented instances of sexual harassment at two plants in Chicago.

“We don’t want you here, and we will move you out for engaging in any behavior like this,” Hackett said in a letter to employees. “Our promise is there will be no retaliation against anyone who speaks up, and no one is above the rules, no matter where they are in the hierarchy. This is absolute.”

Hackett also said Ford had hired more people to investigate charges of harassment or discrimination.

Michelle Krebs, an executive analyst with the car shopping site Autotrader, said companies in every industry are looking at employee behavior in a new light, and the auto industry is no exception. But the timing is particularly bad for Ford, which has struggled to lay out a clear direction for its future. Nair was a rising star at the company, she said.

Joseph Holt, ethics professor at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, praised Ford, saying companies have to take action when their codes of conduct are violated,

“When inappropriate behavior is tolerated or exceptions are made for star employees, then leadership is not clear, credible or consistent in its upholding of professed values, and that invites well-founded employee cynicism,” he said.

Nair was named Ford’s executive vice president and head of North America on June 1, 2017. Prior to that, he was Ford’s head of global product development and chief technical officer.

Nair joined Ford in 1987 as a mechanical engineer. He held numerous leadership positions in Europe, Asia and South America. Prior to being named head of global product development, Nair oversaw engineering for all Ford and Lincoln vehicles.