When Mark Fields was 8, his dad gave him 20 toy Matchbox cars, sparking a lifelong affinity for autos that culminated Thursday with his appointment as chief executive of Ford Motor Co.
The New Jersey native and Harvard Business School graduate still has the cars, neatly tucked into their plastic carrying case. Fields, 53, says it's a reminder of the attachment people have to their wheels.
Fields was named Ford's chief operating officer in late 2012, putting him in charge of the automaker's day-to-day operations and cementing his position as heir to CEO Alan Mulally.
Two of Ford's major truck plants are in Louisville.
Fields talked earlier this year about Ford, cars and his management style.
Question: What do you like about the auto business?
Answer: In all honesty, I am not an engineer so I don't have oil running through my veins. I can't disassemble a car. ... But I love the way the auto industry is a great marriage of the ultimate industrial product, in terms of how it comes together, and the ultimate consumer product in terms of how you present it to the marketplace.
It is a very complex business where there are so many different stakeholders. It is a wonderfully complex industry that has so much impact on the economy.
Q: How did you get to Ford?
A: When I was coming out of business school, Ford was starting a program called the marketing leadership program, where in the first five years you could get one-year assignments to different areas in the business, most within marketing and sales but also one or two assignments outside.
Q: What is the hardest management issue at Ford now?
A: I think our biggest opportunity right now is launching all these great products. We are launching 23 globally this year. It is a real opportunity to position ourselves for the next critical step in growth for the company.
Q: What issue is the most important for Ford going forward?
A: I think for Ford and the industry, two of the biggest issues are developing our strategy around the connected vehicle — and our vision for that is to create a seamless experience for the customer whether they are inside or outside of a vehicle. It is a big opportunity for us but we have to keep in mind to make sure that we keep the driver's eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.
Q: What was your first car?
A: My first car was a yellow Datsun B-210, and I got it when I was 20 years old and still in college. I got a great deal on it because the frame was bent because it was in an accident. I used to drive the car with the steering wheel turned so that the car would go straight.