Erica Klampfl might have the coolest job ever: She gets to plow through reams of data. And then, she gets to change the world.
As part of Ford’s Smart Mobility initiative, Erica’s led the program’s 25 Experiments project, a sweeping company-wide effort designed to bring out the best ideas of the company’s 187,000 employees and develop them for the marketplace. For the last two years, she has been thinking about what the future will look and feel like, and then guiding her team to create it.
It’s all that data that she loves working with that leads the effort just as much. Erica joined the mobility team after they’d spent considerable time brainstorming, and many of the ideas were well developed; but they needed clarity and definition within the framework of Ford’s long term goals—and that is Erica’s expertise.
From a talent in math to leading Ford’s innovations
A mom with a Ph.D. in applied math (her son is following in her footsteps, studying engineering at the University of Michigan this fall), Erica was the first generation in her family to attend college. When she was growing up in Slidell, Louisiana, her mother saw she had a talent for math and encouraged her to pursue a career that would put it to work. After earning her bachelor’s degree in math and computer science at Louisiana State University, Erica was unsure what she wanted to do, so she went to graduate school at Rice University in Houston where she earned a master’s and Ph.D. in applied mathematics. There her true love was born: using math to find, clarify and optimize opportunities.
An offer she never thought she’d want: a career in cars
She graduated in 2000 and accepted an offer from Ford; she liked the company’s challenges, its culture and work/life balance. Her first job was in etechnology and the goal was to develop business models for manufacturing. For instance, if the purchasing team was having an issue outside of the scope of exiting processes, the etechnology team worked with them to develop new models to solve the problem.
But soon the economy suffered and for Ford, a scandal involving Firestone tires severely impacted the company’s business; reinvention was needed on a much deeper level. Erica was surprised by what came next: Bill Ford, then CEO, tasked the company to be part of the environmental and global solution, not the problem. Ford introduced the Blueprint for Sustainability which has the mission of reducing pollution and emissions and creating sustainable ways of building its vehicles.
Finding a deeper calling in… trucks?
But Erica had to ask, “what does that mean?” In 2009 she joined the strategy and sustainability analytics team. They were charged with doing something Ford analysts had never done before: look at global optimization and change its business models to adapt. But they also had to look at what Ford wanted its fleets to be according to the Blueprint for Sustainability, and of course, the strategy needed to be to be profitable and efficient. “The [Ford] F-150 [truck] came out of this,” she says proudly. The F-150 is innovative and celebrated for its unprecedented use of aluminum, sustainable materials and improved fuel economy, all while improving its heavy duty work capabilities.
“These are the types of analytics problems that I loved working on,” she said with a smile; she was very happy in her role. But when the company started focusing on different sorts of mobility—not just cars and trucks but personal transportation, connectivity and transportation systems— they needed to analyze customer insights and research, and to think about what customers need and how Ford could provide it.
“I had been looking at analytics to think about integrated journeys and planning,” she said, “and they asked me to lead the mobility team.” Her former boss came to her and said “‘I think you’d be great at this.’ I said ‘no, I love my job.’ But he kept at it, telling me it was a good growth opportunity, that I’d get a lot of visibility into how the company works, it would be different from research and would be great learning opportunity for me. So, I said yes.”
25 Experiments and a chance to change the world
That was August, 2013, and the Smart Mobility team was hard at work on the next level of reinvention at Ford: challenging the entire company to come up with innovations that would change the next era of Ford’s business. The 25 Experiments project was underway, but the response from Ford employees was almost overwhelming. 130 ideas were submitted—130 good, plausible ideas. The team needed clarity and a plan for dealing with the response. Erica’s training and approach helped them to sort and evaluate all the ideas, then put a plan into place and to create a concrete, actionable program.
Action was the key word. Erica was used to delivering information, not action; this time, she was in charge of executing the plan they would create.
“They took a risk on me,” says Erica. “Coming from research, I was removed from the day to day business. But I believe this [25 Experiments] is one of the big components of Ford’s future based on the work we have done. We came out and said we are a product and mobility company,” not just a car company.
So what is driving the next stage of Erica’s career?
The big ideas that are coming out of the company now. More than traditional car ownership, new ways for people to have access to personal transportation: shared car ownership, rapid charging of electronic vehicles, the multimodal [MoDeMe] bike program that integrates bikes—some of them electric—into the car consumer’s daily journey.
What’s next? More learning and data as Erica and her team test out consumers experience with multimodal journey, including a mode link app; does it help them get from A to B? Does it help with first mile and the last mile? What features do they want? Does Ford really want to make bikes? Is this a good business for Ford?
And, what really drives her?
Erica’s first car was a Pontiac Grand Am. At the time, it was just a car; it gave her freedom to get around. But now a car is so much more to her. She loves the ability to drive a variety of cars and gain further insight into how they impact her customer’s lives. Right now she drives a Ford C-Max hybrid, and her husband drives a Transit Connect van, which they love. “It seats seven and he folds all the seats down and uses it to haul stuff,” she says. She loves the utility of the Transit Connect, and finds it’s a conversation starter. “People stop me in parking lots and ask me about it.” Driving a hybrid is new for her, though: it’s her first automatic. “Last year I had a Fiesta manual [shift] and this is my first time with no manual!”