You were previously the CEO of another
company, Steelcase, which went through
some transitions and culture changes. This
is a different kind of spotlight.
I had this interim assignment as the University
of Michigan athletic director where I hired [former star quarterback] Jim Harbaugh as head
football coach, so that spotlight was big.
You don’t mind the spotlight?
It’s not painful, [but] I don’t seek it. It feeds some
of the wrong things about the way people think
of business. The cult of personality as a CEO,
there are some people who can pull that off.
Very few. I would rather be in the background
and be known as a person who’s thoughtful,
whom people love to work for, and then the
team is in the spotlight. It is the way I was
wired, with three older brothers. Roger Enrico,
who helped lead Pepsi [from 1983 to 2003], said
that leadership is having a point of view. The
CEO can’t shrink from that. If you do, the company suffers from confusion, lack of direction.
So in my first hundred days [as Ford CEO], we
have developed a point of view of the future of
the company: “smart vehicles in a smart world.”
“A smart world”—the environment out-
side—you don’t have as much control over
that, do you?
The evolution of the environment is not only
needed but is going to happen. For instance,
you waste more time today trying to find a
parking place than being stuck in traffic. Now,
that’s just [about] trying to match the open
parking place with where the car needs to go,
which is going to help fuel efficiency, whether
it’s electric or gas. It’s a “smart vehicle, smart
environment, smart world” kind of example.
People have to be mobile. We already know
factions are discriminated against because
they’re old and can’t get to a doctor, or they’re
in a certain part of the city and they don’t have
enough money, or they can’t get to the bus stop
and it’s cold. Mobility has to be, as [Ford executive chairman] Bill Ford says, a fundamental
human right. It’s something that we have to
There’s a myth in the press that people are
going to give up their vehicles. It’s an object that
sits 90% of the time and you borrow money to
pay for it. What’s the psychology of that? We
do it because [cars] give a sense of control, independence, and freedom. In the future, that
will matter too.
As we build this smart world, we think we
can have you vacillate between different kinds
of mobile systems depending on what you want.
You can have an ownership kind of feeling, and
you can have a Chariot, which is the [ride-sharing] brand we’ve started in northern California. It’s 70% occupied by women every day.
Why? They feel safe opting into this transport
system. There’s 6 to 10 riders in it. You hail it
with your phone, and it plots its path based on
where the crowd wants to go. That’s mobility
you won’t buy through a car dealer. But we will
need car dealers in the future for autonomous
What’s Ford’s competitive advantage in this
battle for the future of mobility?
It’s this blue oval. When I joined the board, I
got letters from my friends in business and
the opening sentence in all of them was, “Jim,
in 2008, when Ford didn’t take the money, I
bought a Ford.” The sentiment was, you know,
one for the good guys here. I’m not diminishing the other companies [that participated in
the government bailout of the auto industry].
It was good for the world that those companies
survived. But this team of people that ran the
company kept it alive.
There are very few auto companies where
there’s a family presence. You can’t believe the
advantage. It’s a pixie dust in the values of the
More than a century ago,
Ford Motor Co. made the
automobile a mass-market
consumer product accessible to all. Last May, Jim
Hackett took over as the
company’s CEO and faced
a challenge as big as anything Henry Ford ever
encountered: to lead the
company into a future
defined by autonomous
vehicles, clean fuel alternatives, and the concept
of mobility as a tech-driven mobile service.
Hackett talks to Fast
Company’s Robert Safian
about the need for agility
and how it’s shaping his
plans to recast Ford’s business model and culture.
Photograph by Melissa Golden