4 Huge Companies Besides Ford That Need a Transformational Tech Leader as CEO

"We need a transformational leader," Ford  (F) executive chairman Bill Ford Jr. declared at a news conference on Monday morning announcing the company's surprising decision to replace Mark Fields as CEO with Jim Hackett. Hackett, the former CEO of Steelcase (SCS) , had been leading Ford's all-important Smart Mobility unit, which was experimenting with self-driving cars and car-sharing programs. Ford's stock price had fallen about 30% over the three years with Fields at the helm; they were rising 1.5% on Monday on news of his dismissal and Hackett's elevation.

Ford is far from the only Fortune 500 company whose businesses are being upended by technology and could use an experienced tech visionary as its leader. Here are a few other major companies that come to mind.

1. Target

Target CEO Brian Cornell

It might be time for Target's  (TGT) executive vice president and chief information and digital officer, Michael McNamara, to take the reins away from current CEO Brian Cornell, whose cautious tactics have caused the retailer to fall behind competitors such as Walmart (WMT) . Top executives, including Target's former chief digital officer, Jason Goldberger, have fled the retailer as it sees traffic dwindle at its outdated stores.

In the first quarter, Target saw its same-store sales slide 1.3% and its transactions decline 0.8%. Meanwhile, under McNamara's guidance, Target's digital sales spiked an eye-popping 22%. Last month, Target fired its chief innovation and strategy officer, Casey Carl, who once proposed that the company create a "store of the future," similar to the one Walmart is testing. But, Cornell shut the idea down, stating it was too far out of the retailer's reach.

While Cornell has approached innovation with hesitance, McNamara has taken it head on, continually launching new online capabilities, like Target Restock, to make the retailer's digital experience faster and more convenient. McNamara came to Target in 2015 after overseeing the technology efforts at British grocery and general merchandise retailer Tesco, a leading pioneer in omni-channel retail, for more than 15 years.

--Lindsay Rittenhouse

2. Time Warner
2. Time Warner
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes

As smart media companies make technology as important to their operations as creating content, hiring a CEO who champions the finer points of digital engineering is becoming essential to surviving the accelerating decline in cable-TV subscribers.

If Time Warner (TWX) wasn't being acquired by AT&T (T) , and CEO Jeff Bewkes was making plans for an immediate successor, a likely candidate would be John Martin, chairman of the company's Turner Networks group, which includes TNT, CNN and TBS.

 

Martin's background is in finance not technology but since being promoted in 2014 to run Turner, he has secured placement for his cable-TV nets on AppleTV, Hulu and other over-the-top pay-TV platforms. And in March, he joined with 21st Century Fox's (FOXA) networks group and Viacom's (VIAB) cable-TV stations to announce the creation of OpenAp, which is designed to use set-top-box and consumer data to allow advertisers to better target their marketing.

It's all about finding ways to offset the decline in cable-TV subscribers, which hit an all-time high in the first quarter.

"We have to grow our business outside of the traditional TV ecosystem," Martin said in an interview in September with ReCode. "We need new revenue streams. You're going to see us doing some organic things, like launching OTT services. And I'd like to see us in the position where we're buying either technology capabilities, or IP outside of the ecosystem."

--Leon Lazaroff

3. Deere & Company
3. Deere & Company
John Deere CEO Samuel Allen

Deere & Company (DE) tractors fit right up there between mom and apple pie in the pantheon of all things decidedly American.

But for the last several years, struggling farmers have fought to stay afloat after the global financial crisis pressured operations from mom and pop operations to corporate behemoths all cut back spending. Big ticket items such as new tractors and combines were quick to feel the pinch.

"We see modestly higher overall demand for our products, with farm machinery sales in South America experiencing a strong recovery," Chief Executive Officer Samuel Allen, said in a press release that accompanied the company's May 19 earnings report.

"We are seeing signs that after several years of steep declines key agricultural markets may be stabilizing," Allen added.

Although Allen has no plans to step aside, should that change, Deere could well consider as his replacement Jean Gilles, Senior Vice President of Advanced Technology and Engineering, and Global Supply Management and Logistics at Deere.

According to the company website, Gilles joined John Deere in 1980 as an engineer at the John Deere Harvester Works and served in some positions of increasing responsibility at the firm.

Gilles has a master's degree in mechanical engineering from Ecole Centrale de Paris and a master's degree in business administration from Stanford University. On Monday Deutsche Bank raised its price target on Deere $135 from $122 while maintaining a hold rating, following the company's second-quarter earnings report.

--Greg Morcroft

4. American Express
4. American Express
American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault

American Express (AXP) , whose CEO is now 65, might benefit from appointing a successor to Kenneth Chenault with a strong technology background. Like rival financial institutions JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Bank of America (BAC) , American Express is increasingly leveraging digital capabilities to meet the demands of users who rely on mobile devices and reduce costs.

To bolster its renowned concierge services for cardholders, which include hotel and airline bookings, AmEx is "investing in concierge capabilities, in relationship managers that cater to our customers' travel needs, and we're also focused on fusing our experience there with artificial intelligence and mobile technology to make these services available to a much wider range of our customers, on cost effective digital platforms," Douglas Buckminster, head of the company's global services group, said at an investor presentation in March.

The technology emphasis is one of the ways Chenault is trying to drive growth after the loss of the company's lucrative branded-card agreement with retailer Costco (COST) . Shares in his company have climbed 3.4% this year, trailing a gain of 6.4% on the broader S&P 500.

--James Langford

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This article was written by a staff member of TheStreet.

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