After less than three years, Mark Fields has been replaced as Ford’s Chief Executive as the car giant rushes to embrace technological change. His successor, Jim Hackett, is a relative newcomer to the industry and has been heading up Ford’s smart and driverless car division.
Jim Hackett joined the company board in 2013, taking on the smart mobility role in 2014 with a focus on how Ford would respond to market developments such as shared ownership of vehicles, internet-connected cars, and self-driving vehicles. Before that, he was not involved in the car industry, but instead flourished in a twenty-five-year career with Steelcase, the US office furniture firm, and revived that business to make it the world’s largest and most influential player in its field.
Hackett’s elevation to the top job has come about as a result of Ford investors feeling concerned by what they felt was a lack of direction. The lack of involvement by Ford in the development of electric and self-driving vehicles was starting to reflect in share prices, which were down a third of their former price since 2014.
Observations of the speedy pace and rushed nature of the handover were confirmed at a press conference by Chairman Bill Ford – great-grandson of the company’s founder: Henry Ford. He said that he and Mark Fields had got together before the weekend and decided that “it was the right time for him to resign.” He added that “no decision like this is made hastily”.
Jim Hackett also commented on the speed of his appointment when asked about what he felt was the biggest challenge of the new role, saying that he’d had less than 72 hours to think about what was ahead.
Mr Ford paid tribute to the outgoing Chief Executive, saying that Mr Fields “did great things at Ford, creating building blocks for the future and put us in a great position financially to chart our future.” He went on to extoll Mr Hackett’s expertise and track record in managing change, saying that this was a large factor in the decision to appoint him.
Explaining that the car industry had entered a period of unprecedented change, Mr Ford said that “Jim is a proven transformational leader, a visionary thinker; He’s not just a futurist, he is a great operating executive able to seamlessly deliver a future that has been envisioned.”
Heralding a wide-ranging review of the Ford company structure, both the Chairman and Chief Executive addressed their concerns that the company had become “overly bureaucratic and hierarchical” which was making it difficult to be as nimble to respond to change as some of their rivals.
Analysts have expressed hope that the new chief executive communicates his new strategy quickly and clearly, especially with regard to any shift in approach to electric and self-driving vehicles. Communication with investors about performance in relation to competitors, and clarity about what investments will be required for future competitiveness should be made clear.
Mr Hackett’s new role has led to a general reshuffle at the top. Jim Farley, who was boss for Ford’s European, Middle East and African business will now take on a global markets role and will also be overseeing the development of the strategy and business model for electrified and autonomous vehicles. The global executive vice president role will be taken by Joe Hinrichs, which will see him overseeing areas such as product development, labour, quality, purchasing, manufacturing, and safety. Marcy Klevorn, group vice president for IT, will take over Jim Hackett’s old responsibilities for running smart mobility.
With the new chief executive’s concerns over past communications failures by Ford stated at the press conference, it was also no surprise that Ford’s group vice president of communications Ray Day, has been replaced by Mark Truby – who was the vice president of communications for Ford’s Asia-Pacific operations.