When Jim Farley took over as CEO of Ford Motor Co., the company not only faced impatient shareholders, disturbing quality and perception issues, it was also behind the curve for the transition to electric vehicles. It also navigates deadly pandemics and historic supply chain shocks, crises that accelerate permanent change to businesses.
Now, more than a year later, the Dearborn automaker looks different than it used to be.
Jim Farley, Michigan
Ford’s stock was up about 100% during Farley’s first year as CEO.
Ford’s stock was up about 100% during Farley’s first year as CEO. The company is launching a new product portfolio that includes some of the most crowded vehicles in recent memory. It’s all about electrification, a flag that was firmly planted in September with the announcement of an $11.4 billion investment in new EV and battery manufacturing campuses in Tennessee and Kentucky. And he has a plan, which seems to have the backing of Wall Street analysts, investors, dealers, and customers.
Over the past year, automakers have made eye-catching moves that signal Farley’s ambition to lead the electric and digital future of the auto industry.
Ford revealed the F-150 Lightning, which now has more than 150,000 orders. It announced a joint venture to manufacture batteries with SK Innovation. It increased its investment in electrification to $30 billion by 2025. It launched a standalone commercial vehicle business. It announced a new EV and battery plant, the largest single manufacturing investment in history.
The recent moves are part of a larger shift. Farley — who rose through the ranks after leaving Toyota Motor Corp. for Blue Oval in 2007 — envisioning a digital product that generates a recurring revenue stream. And it is this plan that he points to—along with his leadership team, a group he quickly recognized and that consists of trusted Ford veterans along with the policy and technology heavyweights he personally recruited—as his proudest accomplishment to date.
“It’s not about the CEO,” he said. “I would love to work in a line like this. My job is to serve everyone at Ford. I want the team to win. And I think we have a plan and a team that can redesign Ford.”
Still, the job was deeply personal to Farley, a car guy who crashes on race tracks in his spare time and the proud grandson of a Ford auto worker, whose memory he often remembers.
And although free time is limited these days, Farley spends some of his time working with the Pope Francis Center in downtown Detroit, an organization that serves people experiencing homelessness. He’s led a campaign that has so far raised $17 million to build a bridge housing campus in the Corktown area that will include temporary housing units, a health care clinic, and an outdoor hot spring area. The center’s work, he believes, could serve as a model for the whole country on how to tackle the root causes of homelessness.
Reverend Tim McCabe, the center’s executive director, described Farley as “an example of servant leadership” and praised him for helping the organization in its mission to eradicate chronic homelessness in the city.
Meanwhile, if Farley seems to be in a rush at Ford, it’s only because he has big ambitions for what he thinks the company can achieve and wants to see what his team plans are.
“We’re going to try to change the world like Henry Ford did with the Model T. Why would we want to wait?” he said. “Detroit is not a place to wait.”
Work: President and CEO of Ford Motor Co.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics from Georgetown University, management degree from University of California, Los Angeles Anderson School of Management
Family: Wife, Lia; three children
Why is it respected?: In his first year as Ford CEO, Farley and his team navigated through the coronavirus pandemic and related supply chain issues, embarking on a new product portfolio that excited customers, boosted the stock price of a lagging company, and articulated a clear turnaround strategy.