December 16, 2015 — Ending several weeks of speculation, The Banks Report has learned that FordDirect’s CEO Stacey Coopes is leaving the company as soon as today following a recent vote by the company’s board of directors. Insiders tell TBR the move raises questions about FordDirect’s future over the next several months.
Differences in philosophy about FordDirect’s role between Coopes and Ford executive and FordDirect board member Mark LaNeve, who was named vice president U.S. marketing, sales and service in January of this year, reportedly led to the recent moves.
Valerie Fuller, who was named COO in August 2011, will serve as the interim CEO of the company. A search committee has been formed to hire a new CEO.
The board is comprised of five Ford dealers and three Ford executives, one of whom is LaNeve. The construction of the board provides the dealers with control over the company, although Ford is who benefits the most financially.
The change in leadership raises questions about FordDirect’s future which include speculation it could be rolled into Ford over the next several months. Whether Ford decides to make a move that drastic, it’s clear that LaNeve wants to move the company in a different direction.
FordDirect has probably grown far beyond what its founders envisioned in 2000. It was a joint venture between Ford Motor Co. and its Dealer Council created to help dealers better navigate the growing world of digital marketing and sales. It continues to operate as a joint venture.
Today, the company has more than 150 employees and, according to its website, helped dealers sell more than 600,000 vehicles in 2014 — approximately 30% of Ford’s retail sales.
In recent years, FordDirect has expanded beyond being just being an online leads channel for dealers and now has become more of a digital marketing platform for dealers. It also has selected preferred vendors in areas such as customer relationship management, inventory management, digital advertising, social media, and reputation management programs.
According to several vendors, FordDirect shares in the revenues generated by the contracts with their preferred vendors – a strategy that has helped it become profitable. It has also raised questions of whether the strategy is beneficial to Ford’s dealers. One possible change has FordDirect opening its preferred vendor list while backing away from sharing in the vendor revenues — a change many vendors and dealers would welcome. But for now, that is speculation.
Reportedly, much of the dispute is focused on who should control the money — is it FordDirect or Ford? It’s not clear who controls the money now — or at least, how it is spent. Some insiders have speculated that LaNeve’s strategy is to gain control is to gut the current FordDirect reducing its profitability before buying it from the dealer shareholders. The goal would be to give Ford — LaNeve — control over how the money is spent.
The point is, FordDirect’s future is in question and it clearly will be a much different entity by this time next year.
This will be a continuing story…so stay tuned.