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....