As CFO of Ford Motor Co., Robert Shanks has a unique take on the global economy — and the U.S. automaker’s place in it. “One of the things that’s fantastic about being part of this industry, particularly if you’re a global company as we are, is that it is so integrated to what is happening in the external environment,” says Shanks, 59, who has spent nearly half of his 35-year career at Ford working outside the U.S., including stints in Brazil, Japan, Taiwan and the U.K. “Our business is everywhere in the world, so whatever is going on, we’re affected either positively or negatively in some way.”

In late 2005, Shanks returned from abroad to Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, to work on the restructuring of the company’s North American operations with Mark Fields, who runs that business. Ford North America earned $4.1 billion the first six months of this year, more than offsetting losses in its European and Asia-Pacific units. Shanks, who was promoted from controller to CFO in April, recently spoke with Institutional Investor Editor Michael Peltz about Ford’s global ambitions and how the company hopes to apply what it learned in North America to solve its problems in Europe.    

1. How has your job changed since you became CFO in April?

As CFO, I’m more involved in the operating side of our business than before. I also now have the opportunity to interact with key external stakeholders because Ford traditionally has designated the CFO as one of the key external spokespersons for the company. This is a role I undertook while serving as the CFO at Mazda years ago, but not really since.

As CFO at Ford, I have significant input in determining the strategic direction of the company. In fact, Ford’s corporate strategy group reports to me. It’s exciting being highly engaged in setting the strategic agenda for the company. It’s great to be part of the senior team, keeping an eye on the pulse of major trends and metrics important to our business, while looking into the future and developing strategies important to our future growth and success. It’s also exciting to understand where things aren’t quite going as well as they should or where they’re going extremely well, then focusing the team’s attention on the right areas to move the business forward.