WHEN FORD fired Jacques Nasser there was a lot of talk about the future of one of Nasser's pet projects - Premier Automotive Group and its boss, Wolfgang Reitzle.
Nasser hired Reitzle in April 1999 and created a new organization to accommodate him. The Premier division grouped Volvo, Jaguar, Lincoln and Aston Martin. Land Rover was later added after Ford acquired it from BMW.
Reitzle sounded convincing when he said, a couple of days after Nasser left, that he wasn't going anywhere and that Premier was still a high priority at Ford. So far he has been proved right. Premier has been given new stature in the aftermath of the Ford shakeup.
Ford has sent its one-time ace product developer, Richard Parry-Jones, to the UK to work for Reitzle. Jan Klug, vice president of global marketing, will also report to Reitzle and focus on the worldwide marketing of the Premier group brands.
Parry-Jones and Klug may just be paying the price for having been Nasser favorites. But they give Reitzle a much stronger team.
Still, some industry observers believe that Reitzle is jittery. They think he is tired of Ford's bureaucracy and, with his boss and chief backer gone, may be ready to join one of several auto companies that would love to have him.
But Ford needs Wolfgang Reitzle as much as it ever did. He's a one-of-a-kind car guy who is pointing the way in the luxury-car wars.
And Reitzle needs Ford. Though he could immediately find work elsewhere, where would he find it better than where he is - running a lively portfolio of luxury brands that need his guidance?
The talk is that Reitzle might someday replace Jurgen Hubbert at Mercedes-Benz. Fine. That job would suit him. But it may not be as rewarding as riding the growth curve at Premier.
Ford - Bill Ford, the new CEO - should make sure that Reitzle feels wanted. Look at all the success BMW enjoys today and remember who was in large part responsible.