Thai-Tang is Ford’s new CPO – great cv, no purchasing experience

Let’s dig into the changes at the top of Ford’s purchasing structure, announced this month, because they raise some interesting questions about the nature of our profession.

 They have been stimulated by the retirement of the well-regarded Tony Brown, Ford’s global purchasing leader for the past 11 years - Hau Thai-Tang has been appointed as group vice president for global purchasing to succeed Brown. Thai-Tang will report to Chief Operating Officer (COO) Mark Fields, who himself is seen as the heir-apparent to CEO Alan Mulally.

 It’s worth repeating the Ford information on Thai-Tang, as he’s had an interesting and varied career already.

“Thai-Tang held several senior leadership positions in Product Development. He was executive director of Global Product Programs, and director of Advanced Product Creation and Special Vehicle Team (SVT). In these roles, he led the delivery of Ford's mainstream and high performance products from conception to launch across all regions.

 Thai-Tang's international experience includes assignments in Cologne, Germany and four years serving as director of Product Development for Ford South America. Based in Brazil, he oversaw the development of new products for value markets and led the emergence of FSAO as a global product development center.

 Previously, Thai-Tang served as the chief engineer for the Mustang program, leading the design, development, and launch of the 2005 model year Mustang. An avid car enthusiast, Thai-Tang was a race engineer for Nigel Mansell and Mario Andretti on Ford's Newman-Haas IndyCar team in 1993. His efforts contributed to six victories, eleven podium finishes, and the overall driver's and manufacturer's championships”.

There’s also an interesting personal story here. He came to the USA in 1975 with his parents when he was nine years old. As he told the story here:

“My mother worked for Chase Manhattan Bank in Saigon. My father was a school teacher. At the end of the war, when we recognized that the Communists were going to win and the U.S. had pulled out all its troops, the people from Chase Manhattan Bank told us, "We're going to help emigrate some of our employees to America." ...  We were told .. “listen to this radio and when you hear "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby, you'll have an hour to get to the airlift destination... One day in April 1975, we heard "White Christmas" and my parents got us into a car, sped over to my grandparents' house, said goodbye, and drove to this meeting place. They took us by bus to the airport. We got put on an American military plane. We flew to Guam. The next day Saigon fell to the Communists.”

An amazing story. Thai-Tang  joined Ford as a graduate trainee in 1993, and is clearly a star, wining various awards on his rise through the firm.

“In 2001, the Automotive Hall of Fame awarded Thai-Tang the Young Leadership and Excellence Award. He was also named Asian Executive of the Year by On Wheels Inc. in 2006”.

However, have you spotted something about his career? Yes, that’s right. He’s never worked in Purchasing (or even Supply Chain) previously. His background is all on the product development and engineering side of the business. Yet he’s getting the very top purchasing job, one of great importance to the firm.

 What does that tell us? Is it a kick in the teeth for our “profession”?  Would the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply refuse to give him his “licence to practice” purchasing, as I'm assuming he doesn’t have his CIPS or ISM qualifications?

Or might there be a more positive interpretation to the appointment?  We’ll speculate further on those issues in part 2 tomorrow - and of course we offer Thai-Tang our Spend Matters congratulations and welcome to the world of purchasing, procurement, buying, sourcing or whatever you want to call it!

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