Get Ready for More Great Things from Ford.
Ford shocked the business world Sunday night with plans to shake up its top management team. News that the company would replace its CEO, Mark Fields, with Jim Hackett, the former CEO of furniture company Steelcase, as well as other key executives, came in response to a falling stock price and shrinking sales and profits.
Just a typical corporate board preserving shareholder investments and profit margins, right?
No. It’s much bigger than that.
Shocking news, yes, but an exciting future
I awoke to this news in the middle of the night when my phone flooded with notifications. And then I couldn’t sleep thinking about how exciting this next era of Ford will be under Jim’s leadership, and how Bill Ford might be the bravest steward of a family legacy ever.
There’s a really cool story here, and it centers around Bill Ford, Jim Hackett, and brings in Alan Mulally and Mark Fields. And, it’s about you. Because as you put your trust, your kids and your future into the hands of ever-more-autonomous cars, trucks and vehicles on the road, you’ll have more choices and be more confident and in control.
So first, why I’m so excited about Jim Hackett leading Ford’s future
I met Jim in September at a Ford event. He is rather new at Ford, having come out of retirement a couple of years ago to run the company’s smart mobility subsidiary—the one charged with putting Ford at the center of all things transportation, from car sharing to ride hailing to shuttles and bikes. He’s also been working on putting Ford at the center of collaborations with cities and governments to design transportation systems that best fit your needs.
Jim has been on Ford’s board of Directors since 2013 and is somewhat of a hero in Michigan. He was the interim athletic director at the University of Michigan who brought in football coach Jim Harbaugh to successfully turn around the Wolverines.
But this is what got me excited: During Jim’s time running Steelcase he collaborated closely with IDEO, one of the most innovative companies in the world. IDEO is a design innovation agency that is responsible for many things, from the computer mouse to common kitchen gadgets to complex medical equipment. But more than designing things, IDEO has engineered the design process to be able to predict success, something Steelcase needed. But IDEO needed Jim: The company needed his help balancing great design work with the balance sheet so that the company’s success translated into profits.
Steelcase became a majority stakeholder in IDEO, and about 20 years later, when IDEO no longer needed Steelase, as Jim said, Steelcase sold its interest back to IDEO’s managers. IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown is still a frequent collaborator with Jim, and he sits on Steelcase’s board of directors.
Listening to Jim tell the story of this collaboration was fascinating. I was especially taken by Jim’s smart, common sense, human-centric approach to not just the IDEO relationship, but also to Ford Smart Mobility. It was comforting to hear how their plans are centered around people.
Bill Ford learned his lesson and isn’t repeating his mistakes
Not having people at the center of their thinking almost destroyed Ford. In 2007 (before the economic crisis started), Ford was in a pickle. Facing lawsuits over accidents due to under-inflated Firestone tires, Ford chose money over people deciding to settle lawsuits rather than fix potentially life-threatening problems. The company was almost ruined.
Knowing he had to do the hard thing, Bill Ford, the scion charged with running the family company, fired himself as CEO and hired Alan Mulally who had famously revived Boeing.
Alan was not a car guy, but he is a people guy. He was also an outsider who brought insight and skill at building an innovative and vibrant culture. And he had an unbiased view of what needed to be done. He turned Ford around, one of the largest, most successful turnarounds in business history.
Innovation sometimes means making hard—and surprising—choices
But Bill didn’t just kick back and wait for Alan to do his thing. He kept asking deep questions, looking for the bigger picture, finding ways for Ford to be a key part of the future. When Alan retired, the reigns were handed to Mark Fields, a 25 year Ford veteran.
Mark didn’t do a bad job. Under his leadership the company continued to grow, collaborate and evolve the vision. 2015 and 2016 were record sales years. The company is profitable, builds great products and is strong. But the first months of this year have been tough on all car makers—sales are down across the board. Not wanting to sink back into a financial pickle, Bill and Ford’s board of directors again decided to do the hard thing: be proactive.
So what does this mean for you? Get ready for a future all about you
Proactive means eyes focused on the future, solving problems that get in the way and valuing the relationship with the end user—you.
Ford has spent a lot of time thinking about how you spend time in the car, what you need from your four-wheeled family member, and how you get around when your car isn’t the most convenient option. Ford wants to see it all be more efficient, pleasant and rewarding (and so do we!). They’ve been, in many ways, leading the industry and the journey. And the changes put into place this week mean that the Ford journey will continue with even more focus right where it should be: On you.