Surrounded by pristine forests, shimmering lakes and lush mountains, Darryl Hazel stands near the shores of Lake Placid with a purpose. On this brilliant July day, New York State’s scenic Adirondacks provide the perfect backdrop to unveil the 2006 Ford Explorer to the automotive press. For the adventuresome, there’s some off-road driving in store along the rugged mountain trails — a chance to see if this sports utility vehicle really lives up to its name.
In a rustic lodge that serves as the meeting point for the day’s test drives, Hazel hypes Ford’s newest Explorer, the company’s redesigned flagship SUV. His 6-foot-3-inch frame belies his personable and easygoing manner. Hazel addresses reporters as though they are old friends, boasting to the gathered throng about improved handling, a stronger frame, and a quieter ride. He’s convincing, but not overbearing, still possessing the winning charm of a salesman after all these years. It’s a bravura performance, one expected of a 33-year auto industry veteran who presides over the mammoth Ford Division.
It may be coincidental that the No. 2 U.S. automaker chose to have its unveiling in the same venue that hosted the 1980 Winter Olympics, but the symbolism is too hard to ignore. That was the year of the “Miracle on Ice,” when the underdog U.S. Olympic hockey team beat the heavily favored Soviet team at the height of the Cold War. Hazel is hoping the new Explorer will bring Ford out ahead as competition from rival automakers grows increasingly intense.
Since its introduction in 1990, the Explorer has been the best-selling SUV, but similar models from foreign and domestic manufacturers have eaten away at market share. It’s not lost on members of the media that Hazel made his presentation one day after Ford Motor Co. reported a 19% drop in second-quarter profits on car and truck sales.
Hazel has been tapped to repair the automaker and steer it toward greater profitability. He knows every nook and cranny of the business, having spent more than three decades at Ford Motor in various positions within its sales, marketing, and operations units, including Ford North American Automotive Operations, where he managed CEO and progeny of the founding family William Clay Ford Jr.
Hazel also understands the needs and challenges of auto dealers, having contributed to the success of legions of them, including David L. Stephens of Stephens Automotive Group (No. 35 on the BE AUTO DEALER 100 list with $75.19 million in sales), whom he helped land a Jaguar dealership. Hazel’s quiet, unassuming demeanor doesn’t mask his full-throttle leadership style or razor-sharp marketing skills — qualities needed to turn the company around and move it forward.
Hazel is well-positioned to play a key role in retooling the automotive giant. He was promoted to president of the Ford Division in April, overseeing virtually all marketing, sales, and distribution operations.
“Darryl has the best marketing skills in the company. He has an unbelievable understanding of what the customer wants and brings that to engineering, so every [Lincoln Mercury] product has Darryl’s stamp,” says