Ford Motor CEO Jim Hackett knows the clock is already ticking on his tenure and intends to make a difference in his first 100 days.
Hackett, 62, who replaced Mark Fields as CEO last month, has begun with a mandate from Executive Chairman Bill Ford to speed up the automaker’s decision-making and wants to instill an increased focus on innovation.
"Every CEO that starts has a 100-day clock ticking. ... So I am working on a 100-day plan that is really coming along nicely," Hackett said.
His short-term goals include looking at revenue opportunities for Ford and making sure the company is getting an acceptable return on its investments.
In his first extensive interview since his appointment, Hackett also talked about his unique view of the technology and design necessary for the public to embrace self-driving cars, his passion for understanding how technology shapes the way people live and work, and how he hopes to change Ford's corporate culture.
Hackett said he and Bill Ford want to "create a flatter structure so that it doesn’t feel the weight of hierarchy on every decision."
Hackett is both an outgoing people person and a technology geek and TED talks, which are meccas for technology entrepreneurs and design trendsetters but are sometimes mocked as self-important displays of intellectualism.
"I’ve been going to TED for 30 years, which is an unusual record," Hackett said.
He is respected for an inclusive management style and prefers to hold meetings with groups of people small enough that no more than two pizzas are required to feed them. His model for leadership was influenced in college while playing football for legendary University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler.
"The first initial thing you get from him is a very clear and dynamic leadership style that was based on integrity," Hackett said of Schembechler. That included "this really strong view that you had to have this — you had to own the space called 'integrity,' even though we are all imperfect and you know people are going to make mistakes, but you can all constantly be in pursuit of this."
Hackett and Bill Ford have already restructured Ford Motor's top management team to give more authority to top Ford executives and set four goals for the company for Hackett's first 100 days. In an effort to reach out to employees, Hackett has produced several videos titled "Hackett's Huddle" to answer questions and explain his views.
Early in his career, Hackett left his job at Procter & Gamble in the 1980s to work for Grand Rapids furniture manufacturer Steelcase, in part because he didn't like the culture there. At Ford, he wants employees to call him "Jim" and hopes to make working at Ford fun.
"The culture was a little too stiff for me (at Procter & Gamble), and when my wife told me you could call the CEO of Steelcase by his first name, I was amazed that you could do that," Hackett said.
Fostering a fun, loose work environment doesn't mean the intensity of working for a global automaker under pressure from Wall Street to boost its stock price will diminish. His four goals for the first 100 days are to:
•Re-evaluate revenue opportunities: With U.S. industry sales plateauing or falling, Hackett said Ford must look for new revenue opportunities and review areas where the company is not making money.
•Evaluate the "fitness of the company": This means trying to figure out the best, most efficient way to operate the business or making sure the best process is being followed to create products. "It’s actually finding ways to design things so that we don’t have redundancy and overlap," Hackett said.
•Re-evaluate capital deployment: Hackett wants to make sure Ford is getting an acceptable return on its investments.
•Renew focus on innovation: Hackett wants to make sure the automaker is as focused as possible on becoming a leader on the development of autonomous vehicles and on emerging opportunities as a mobility service provider.
•Hackett pointed to the company's decision to exit Japan last year as an example of a smart decision to conserve money instead of spending it in a place where Ford had no hope of gaining significant market share.
"The good news is, we have plenty of capital. ... The sources of capital are not the problem. It’s the uses," Hackett said. "You can exit things — it's well-known, competitors have been doing that — and Ford has been on that already."
George Galliers, an auto analyst for Evercore ISI who recently spent two days with Ford executives, said the company is looking at ways to make more money on small cars and appears to be considering a withdrawal from doing business in India — a move that would follow a decision last month by General Motors to stop selling vehicles in India.
"Given that Ford does not expect North American industry volume or pricing to get better from here, addressing less profitable, and in some cases, loss-making parts of the company, will be key to delivering higher earnings," Galliers said.
Football player and technology geek
Hackett, who played football for the University of Michigan in the 1970s, is also a technology geek who is fascinated by the ways that people interact with new computers, telephones and other gadgets.
He began his quest for a deeper understanding of technology in the 1980s with a desire to understand how the personal computer would change the way people work and the office furniture used to do that work. Hackett said he also was fascinated with the Ethernet, a system of connecting computers across a network that was invented by Xerox.
"I really wanted to understand what the Ethernet was. I ended up going to Xerox PARC ," Hackett said, along with other places such as Interval Research, a technology think tank created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in the early 1990s. "These were places where the future was imagined technically. And I was smitten."
As personal computers became ubiquitous in office cubicles across the globe, furniture manufacturers like Steelcase had to design desks to support the big, heavy boxes. But Hackett began to wonder, "What if the weight of the computer changed? What if it got smaller?"
Pondering questions like that helped Steelcase prepare for a revolution in the open, collaborative work environments that emerged when computers shrank.
At Steelcase, he led the furniture manufacturer through a massive change in the 1990s as the work environment changed dramatically. His 18-month stint as U-M's interim athletic director gave him an even higher public profile, especially after he led the charge to hire Jim Harbaugh to coach the football team.
Hackett spent weeks recruiting Harbaugh, whom he viewed as the best choice from the beginning, with discreet phone calls on weekends.
"I put a lot of time into thinking through every part of this," Hackett said when Harbaugh was hired. "The best insight I can give you is we bonded very quickly. Not around him being coach, but the future of the program. It was such a simple decision from that to say, you're the head coach."
Parallels between Hackett and Mulally
The parallels between Hackett and Alan Mulally, who became Ford's CEO in 2006, are hard to miss.
Mulally, a former Boeing executive, also came to Ford as an outsider to the automotive industry from another manufacturing company. Mulally, like Hackett, had a deep bond and friendship with Bill Ford. And Mulally, like Hackett, was tasked with the job of transforming Ford's corporate culture.
The differences are also obvious. Ford was on the brink of bankruptcy in 2006, was hemorrhaging losses in the billions of dollars and its corporate politics were legendary for their backstabbing. Hackett arrives at a time when the company has been making billions in annual profits, has a much stronger lineup of cars and trucks, and is a far more integrated global company.
And Steelcase, a company with $3 billion in annual revenue, is not nearly as large as Ford, with $151 billion in annual revenue.
Despite the differences, Hackett displays a great deal of comfort with his new role.
"The big surprise here is there is not a lot of difference" compared with Steelcase, Hackett maintains. "The nature of being a CEO, where the company is global, where there is an industrial component, where design matters, where you use independent distributors, where technology is altering it — I mean, you can see, with all of those points that this is a place I come from. What is different is the scale and in the culture."
Empowering the management team
Hackett wants to eliminate some of the bureaucracy that can slow product development and other decisions. His desire to create a flatter business structure is already evident in the way that he and Bill Ford have restructured the company's top management ranks.
While 18 executives reported directly to Fields, only eight report directly to Hackett. Hackett believes meetings with too many people tend to get bogged down in endless discussions rather than clear decisions and wants to create an environment "where people feel empowered."
"That is a throwaway word," Hackett said. "But you actually can do that if you give them the ... tools."
Under Hackett, three top executives — Jim Farley, Joe Hinrichs and Marcy Klevorn — have gained more responsibility and authority. Farley will oversee all of Ford's global regions and global marketing, Hinrichs will oversee product development, manufacturing operations and other functions, and Klevorn will oversee mobility and global data.
The promotions are part of a structure designed to give Ford's top executives larger roles and give Hackett more time to remain focused on bigger, long-term issues.
Hackett also unveiled another layer of management changes in May.
Among the highlights: Hackett promoted Ken Washington to vice president of research and chief technology officer and included him in the group of executives who report to him — a sign that he is elevating the importance of mobility within Ford's management team. Hackett also personally recruited Sherif Marakby to return to Ford as vice president of autonomous vehicles. Marakby left Ford in 2016 to become vice president of global vehicle programs at Uber.
Harbaugh on Hackett: "He was my blocking full back"
Those who know Hackett praise his inclusive leadership approach.
"He leads through the positive," said Scott Cook, founder and executive chairman of tax and business management software firm Intuit, who has known Hackett for about 10 years. "He’s got a gregarious, enthusiastic personality and it brings a positive outlook and a sense of opportunity. Some leaders work the opposite way."
Harbaugh takes it a step further and says Hackett gives credit to those who deserve it.
"People below him love him. He looks out for them and has their back. As a coach, I really feel like he was my blocking fullback," Harbaugh said, a football reference that means Hackett clears the way for others to be successful. "And that's not something everybody does well, or even attempts to do."
"I am a design thinker"
Hackett, who was a finance major at U-M wasn't a furniture designer and won't be directly involved in car design at Ford. But he said he believes the way people are able to interact with and use technology is just as important to the ultimate success of a product as its technical potential.
"I am not a designer," Hackett said. "I am a design thinker. ... Design is about the acuity of understanding use."
From that viewpoint, Hackett — who also led Ford's new mobility division for a year —said that most of the news media have been looking at autonomous vehicles the wrong way.
"We are writing too much about the robot and not enough about the human," Hackett said.
Hackett said he believes consumers will embrace self-driving cars only if they are easy to operate and clearly improve their lives and that it's the companies with the better designs that will prevail. This is why Blackberry, for example, faded after Apple introduced the iPhone.
Ford is among a host of automakers and technology companies that have been aggressively investing in the development of self-driving cars and establishing partnerships with technology companies to be among the first to sell fully autonomous vehicles.
Ford said earlier this year it would spend $1 billion to acquire artificial-intelligence firm Argo AI and expand it over the next five years. It also has said it will have a fully autonomous vehicle on the road by 2021.
Hackett points out that lots of companies who were first to produce new technology later went out of business or fell behind because they failed to design the technology in a way that would actually improve people's lives.
Ford, Hackett pledged, will not make that mistake — especially with the founders of Argo AI and Marakby leading the charge.
"What I can say to you is the guided strategy that we have been on comes from informed development," Hackett said. "The promise is we are going to interpret the human stuff better."
A quick look at Ford CEO Jim Hackett
Career: Named Ford CEO on May 22; previously chairman of Ford Smart Mobility; interim director of athletics at University of Michigan 2014-16; CEO of Steelcase and then vice chairman, 1994-2014
Education: Bachelor’s degree in finance, University of Michigan, 1977
Personal: Grew up in London, Ohio; married wife Kathy as a senior in college; two adult sons; father Bill Hackett was a consensus All-American football player for Ohio State University in 1944 and the Buckeyes’ captain in 1945.
Influential books:The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, about artificial intelligence and the future of humanity by Ray Kurzweil, and The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking, by Roger Martin