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Preview/ WEEK OF MAY 6-12

Ford Annual Meeting in Irvine on Thursday

May 06, 2002|John O'Dell

Ford Motor Co. is bringing its annual shareholder meeting to Southern California this week, the first time since it went public in 1956 that the company will hold a general meeting on the West Coast.

The session, at 10 a.m. Thursday, will be held at the new Ford complex in Irvine, home of Lincoln Mercury's world headquarters and the North American headquarters of Ford's Premier Automotive Group and its Jaguar, Volvo, Land Rover and Aston Martin brands.

Ford has had a miserable year so far, with sagging sales, quality glitches and a $108-million first-quarter loss on the heels of a $5.4-billion annual loss for its fiscal 2001. But annual meeting planning started months ago, and the move west isn't seen as an effort to run away from Michigan and the largest concentration of Ford shareholders.

Still, Thursday's theme is expected to be a celebration of the new facility and of Ford's hopes for its upscale marques and its future.

The firm launched a restructuring plan in January and said last month that it expects to return to profitability in the second half of the year--themes that Chairman William Clay Ford Jr. is likely to focus on during his address.

About 50,000 of Ford's 900,000 shareholders live in Southern California, and one of them, Redondo Beach resident John Chevedden, is pushing two of the three proposals on the agenda to boost common shareholder power and reduce Ford family influence over the company.

But Stephen G. Harper, Ford's manager of shareholder relations, said out-of-state annual meetings typically have light attendance, "under 500," and that he's not expecting a larger turnout or much in the way of fireworks Thursday. The proposals, all opposed by the company, "aren't any different than those we've had in the past," he said.

Only seven other annual meetings since Ford went public have been held outside of the greater Detroit area, and the farthest west until now has been St. Paul, Minn., where Ford has an assembly plant.

Ford selects annual meeting sites where the company has a significant presence, usually a factory, and a large concentration of shareholders. Next year, for the company's 100th anniversary, the meeting site returns to the Detroit area.

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