LONDON - Some of the auto industry's most able executives, have graduated from 'Ford University,' especially in finance. Competitors like General Motors, Nissan and Volkswagen have frequently hired well-schooled executives away from Ford.
Now Ford is doing the raiding.
Two top posts in Ford's new European management structure have been given to executives recruited from Volkswagen. Hans Peter Kunze, 46, joined Ford this week as vice president of purchasing for Europe. Rolf Zimmermann, 50, was hired last summer to head manufacturing operations.
In the USA, Ford recently hired J. Mays as vice president of design. He is a former chief stylist of VW's Audi subsidiary, and designer of the new Beetle.
'It is normally the other way around with 1/8Ford University,'' said John Lawson, an analyst at Salomon Brothers in London. 'This is becoming intriguing.'
Ex-Ford executives are scattered throughout the auto industry. Nissan Europe Vice President Ian Gibson, Adam Opel supervisory board Chairman Hans-Wilhelm Gaeb and former Chrysler Corp. President Robert Lutz all worked at Ford.
Few have gone the other way - partly because Ford promoted from within, partly because Ford wasn't tempting.
'In my day, the early 1980s, we tried to attract one or two persons from VW and couldn't get them,' said former Ford of Europe executive Karl Ludvigsen of Ludvigsen Associates in London.
Kunze, a native of Luebeck, Germany, had worked for VW since 1990, most recently as executive director of global sourcing.
He helped reshape the group's purchasing operations, working with Ignacio Lopez, VW's former purchasing chief.
Kunze will be based in Cologne and will be responsible for all purchasing functions in Europe.
Zimmermann, 50, was president of Volkswagen Navarra SA in Spain, where the VW Polo is produced. At the same time he was in charge of production at the Czech subsidiary Skoda.
Under Ford's new European management hierarchy, he is responsible for all engine, transmission, body and assembly plants in Europe, as well as some facilities in North and South America and in Asia.
Ford has been head-hunting lately because its productivity has fallen behind GM and VW, and its parts and material costs are higher.
'There is no particular significance behind the appointment of ex-Volkswagen personnel to a number of executive positions within Ford,' said Ford spokesman Don Hume. 'They were simply the best candidates.'
Ludvigsen says the head-hunting is positive for Ford.
'There is a sign here,' he said. 'If they are willing to make a move to Ford, they must see a potential. What they are saying at Ford must be pretty convincing.'