David Kelley tells a story that he says gives some insight into new Ford CEO Jim Hackett’s persona.
Hackett had invited Kelley, a legendary engineering designer and one of Hackett’s longtime business associates, to the Michigan-Ohio State game in Ann Arbor in 2015.
Before the game, Hackett, who was then the University of Michigan’s interim athletic director, walked on to the field as the crowd cheered, “Ha-ckett, Ha-ckett.”
Hackett, it seems, makes an impression.
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And Kelley, founder of the IDEO design firm in the heart of Silicon Valley, expects him to make an impression with the workers at Ford, some of whom likely already thank him for securing Jim Harbaugh as the coach of Michigan’s Wolverines.
“I’m not worried about whether he’ll endear himself to the people in the company. That’s his superpower. People will want to work for him, I promise,” Kelley said, noting that the challenge will be in the scale of the job ahead. “It’s a Herculean job no matter who takes it.”
The auto industry is in a state of change, and making lots of cars and trucks is not a guarantee of success in the future. Ford’s stock price suffered despite profits during the tenure of Hackett’s predecessor, Mark Fields. New technologies, the race to develop autonomous vehicles, interest in other types of mobility, and competition from Silicon Valley and other areas will continue to challenge Ford and other automakers for the foreseeable future.
Bill Ford, executive chairman and the great-grandson of Henry Ford, touted Hackett’s Silicon Valley connections when he was introduced as CEO last month and called Hackett a visionary leader who will transform the company culture at Ford.
“I will break this rule just once in saying Alan really captured the hearts and minds of our employees and made them feel that not only could we win, but that we were going to win, and we are going to have fun on the journey. And I think that’s something very much you will see with Jim,” Bill Ford said, referencing Alan Mulally, who preceded Fields as CEO.
Kelley, who also is a Stanford University professor, said Hackett has been a regular attendee at TED conferences, which bring together big names in the tech world.
“I’ve met a lot of CEOs. Jim’s a really exceptional person as well as an exceptional CEO,” Kelley said, noting that Hackett is also someone who genuinely wants to hear from those further down the ranks.
Hackett, 62, who was chairman of Ford Smart Mobility before his promotion, receives high praise from his Smart Mobility team in Palo Alto, Calif., according to a report from Barclays, which had analysts there on a visit last month. Ford Smart Mobility is a Ford subsidiary designed to develop and invest in mobility services.
Brian Johnson, senior research analyst for U.S. autos at Barclays, noted that Hackett brought a philosophy to his role where the focus was on understanding not just what the customer wants but also what the customer needs and brainstorming from there.
Rather than chasing fads, Ford Smart Mobility has tried to fill unmet needs, according to the Barclays report.
Officials at Ford have long talked about the transformation of the automaker to an auto and mobility company, and Hackett’s own comments in a company presentation last year shed some light on where he sees that heading.
“Our traditional business is about selling cars to individuals and fleets; our emerging businesses are about providing transportation for passengers and goods,” Hackett wrote.