Ford, Kerkorian Meet

June 18, 2008
Kirk Kerkorian

Kirk Kerkorian

A team of top Ford Motor Co. managers met with their largest - and newest - outside investor this week to discuss the company's evolving turnaround strategy.

The meeting brought Ford heir and chairman Bill Ford Jr. and CEO Alan Mulally to an undisclosed location in Las Vegas, headquarters for the reclusive billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian. Though the nonogenarian Kerkorian has said he didn't intend to take an active role in management, his track record shows a likely different path, underscored by the attendance at this week's meeting by Jerry York, Kerkorian's top lieutenant.

The get-acquainted session came shortly after Ford shareholders roundly embraced a tender offer by Kerkorian's Tracinda Corp. A whopping 826 million shares were offered up, reflecting the premium value of Tracinda's $8.50 bid. In the end, Kerkorian purchased 20 million shares, giving him a 5.5 percent stake.

A Ford spokesman described the Las Vegas meeting as "positive," though he downplayed its significance, describing it as part of the automaker's ongoing efforts to build "confidence in Ford by our various stakeholders."

Officially, the meeting was limited to the discussion of turnaround plans Ford has already publicly announced.

The 91-year-old Kerkorian has had a long history of involvement in the auto industry, and though he has frequently tried to downplay his role, he has repeatedly stepped up his efforts when it appeared his stock wasn't delivering maximum value. He pushed hard for changes at Chrysler during the early 1990s when friend Lee Iacocca was chairman. Then, after the CEO retired, Kerkorian launched an ultimately unsuccessful hostile takeover bid.

More recently, Kerkorian briefly purchased a stake in General Motors. He sold out after he was unable to convince the giant automaker to enter into a global alliance with the Euro-Japanese partners, Renault and Nissan.

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