Cleveland, Ohio – Barely six months after being named heir apparent at Ford, the automaker announced that Jim Farley will become its president and CEO in October, replacing Jim Hackett.
“Jim Farley matches an innate feel for cars and customers with great instincts for the future and the new technologies that are changing our industry,” Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said.
While sudden, the only thing surprising about the announcement was the timing. Hackett has only been at the helm at Ford since 2017 when he replaced Mark Fields, another Ford CEO who lasted only three years in the role.
When Bill Ford named Hackett CEO, he said the former Steelcase furniture company CEO’s vision for electric and autonomous vehicles and his success in driving operational excellence were needed. While Hackett shifted some research and development dollars to future vehicles, the operational excellence didn’t materialize as the company suffered through expensive launch problems on the Explorer SUV and several other vehicles.
Ford’s financial health also suffered under Hackett’s leadership. Investors have complained about the slow pace of the company’s turnaround plans, and dealers have complained about the company’s truck-heavy strategy that has eliminated most cars from the company’s lineup.
Ford officials called Hackett’s upcoming ouster a retirement.
“Our new product vision – led by the Mustang Mach-E, new F-150, and Bronco family – is taking shape,” Bill Ford said, crediting Hackett’s vision. “We now have compelling plans for electric and autonomous vehicles, as well as full vehicle connectivity. And we are becoming much more nimble, which was apparent when we quickly mobilized to make life-saving equipment at the outset of the pandemic.”
Farley, a cousin of the late comedian Chris Farley, joined Ford in 2007 after two decades at Toyota where he helped launch the Lexus and now-defunct Scion brands. Then-CEO Alan Mulally leaned hard on history and nostalgia to lure Farley from Toyota, a message that resonated with a young executive whose grandfather Emmet Tracy worked at Ford’s massive River Rouge Assembly Plant.
Mulally put the marketing guru in charge of Ford’s European business for a few years before bringing him back to the U.S. for increasingly responsible roles in product direction and sales.
In February, Ford effectively crowned Farley its next CEO when it promoted him to chief operating officer and pushed his competitor for the No. 2 spot, longtime engineer and manufacturing leader Joe Hinrichs, into retirement.
At the time, many analysts predicted Farley would be CEO by the end of 2021, but few predicted ascension by the end of 2020.
Editor’s note: I first met Farley in late 2007 at an event previewing Ford’s new vehicles for the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and he showed one characteristic that’s fairly rare in high-pressure automotive executive suites – humility. While other Ford executives at that meeting bragged about upcoming vehicles or joked about competitors’ missteps, Farley made time to speak to every reporter individually, asking what they thought Ford needed to do to improve. It well could have been an attempt at manipulation – asking automotive journalists what they think is a great way to stroke egos – but his questioning and listening was very different from the hard-sell tactics used by his colleagues.
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and Today's eMobility and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 20 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.