Print Friendly and PDF

The Ford Way

CEO Mark Fields on the F-150, innovation and Ford Motor Co.’s legacy of leadership

Page 10 – 13

By Dawson Bell

Mark Fields, 53, is the CEO of Ford Motor Company. A 25-year Ford veteran, Fields succeeded Alan Mulally, the former Boeing executive who led Ford through one of its most difficult periods. Fields has served in various posts for the company, most recently as COO until being named president and CEO on July 1, 2014. He sat down in Ford’s Dearborn headquarters to talk to Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah.

Sandy Baruah: Give us a quick tour of your office. Do you have any prized possessions?

Mark Fields: My prized possession is the view. Every day I walk in my office … see that mile-long building … the Rouge. Because it reminds me … that we make things. We are a manufacturing company and a technology company, and we make products that are good for the economy.

SB: Speaking of making things, you went through a major transition with the new aluminum F-150. What was it like?

MF: We did a lot of work as you can imagine … going back to 2009 … and we finally made the decision to go all aluminum in 2010. There was a lot of homework … a number of work streams, everything from manufacturability to raw materials to serviceability to customer acceptance. By the time we made the decision, we were ready to go. Now we have a truck that is the toughest, smartest, most capable F-150 ever produced.

In a situation like this, you have to rip out the complete body shop … and usually that would take three or four months. We did it in a month. I think that says a lot about the team’s preparedness … the partnerships and all of our teams working together.

The last (old) F-150 came off on Aug. 23. (Two days later) I walked in to see how we were proceeding. When you walk in there, you always get a good feeling because it’s running. And this was the first time you walk in there and it’s not running, and the roof is coming down literally. My feeling was, “All right. We are on our way.” Here’s a picture.

SB: Oh my goodness.

MF: Backhoes, dumpsters. They’re basically tearing out everything but the concrete on the  floor. I went back exactly one month later. … Here’s the picture.

SB: Wow!

MF: I think it says a lot about what we’ve done. Not only the capability of the truck in terms of the payload, the towing, the increased fuel economy, but also it’s literally one of the world’s highest state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities. It  fits into Henry Ford’s original vision of the Rouge … a 20th century version of a lean, flexible and sustainable manufacturing facility. We have re-invented that for the 21st century.

SB: Talk about the risk-taking. The No. 1 selling vehicle on the planet, and you’re making a really bold move.

MF: One of the priorities I’ve focused on is driving innovation in every part of our business. First off, it’s in our blood as a company. It goes back to our founder. He invented the moving assembly line, the $5 a day wage. Innovation is part of who we are. Not just in the hardware, but also in the consumer experience.

When we were developing the F-150 it was natural … for the team to come forward and say, “We could go the traditional route, or we could take a bold step.” So, when we get to go/no-go, were we taking a risk? Yes. Was it a reckless risk? Absolutely not. We’ve had an on-time, high-quality launch, and vehicles are shipping to customers as we speak.

SB: You’re in the process of re-inventing the Lincoln brand. How will you define success?

MF: Our strategy is very clear. We want to make sure we have a true luxury brand with a client experience to match. We expect to sell in the neighborhood of 300,000 Lincolns by the end of the decade. We want to expand our product lineup, and we want to have one of the highest client satisfaction ratings in the industry. I believe that it is critically important that a successful global OEM has … a vibrant and relevant luxury brand.

SB: Someplace for your customers to go.

MF: Yeah. We don’t want to be a feeder brand for somebody else’s luxury brand.

SB: It sometimes seems like the line between luxury and mass market is getting blurred. What’s the difference?

MF: It comes down to levels of craftsmanship … the type of materials … higher end powertrains, the general feel of a step up. There is also a difference in the technology. Part of that is because … there is a cost to develop that, and luxury customers are more willing to pay for that value. And client experience. There’s a big opportunity … right now where customers really want personalized service. We’re very much on our way with that in our launch in China. You walk in there, and you feel like you’re in a high-end luxury store.

SB: What keeps you up at night?

MF: I sleep pretty well. I’m pretty tired by the end of the day. (Laughter) I think the thing that’s always on my mind is … the economic environment. There is always something going on. The world is spinning a lot faster. It can change very rapidly.

SB: You’re a global company, but you’re headquartered in Michigan. How do you see Michigan’s business environment?

MF: I think it’s changed very positively. When you look at how Detroit is going through the bankruptcy process, I think it’s another positive sign of the gathering momentum we’re seeing. Ford is going to continue to do our part … because we think it is really important to have a healthy home state.

I’m encouraged at how the state has re-embraced the importance of manufacturing. The repeal of the Personal Property Tax, I think, is a very positive step and will help create a much improved environment for investment. Then finally, the new international bridge is another.

SB: You’ve done a lot of hiring in Michigan.

MF: Since 2011, we’ve hired I think 23,000 people in the U.S. and nearly 12,000 of those have been here in Michigan.

SB: How do you attract new talent into the company?

MF: People throw around the term “war for talent,” and it truly is. The great news is we’re a growing company in a growing industry. We’re hiring the most we have in decades. We have great and ongoing relationships with terrific universities. We also want to show employees … the automobile industry is a great place to work. Ford is a great manufacturing company, but it’s a technology company as well, and you can do really important work that can literally change the world.

I tell young people I’ve been at Ford 25 years, and they look at me like I’m Methuselah. But I tell them that in my 25 years I’ve probably had 10 different careers.

SB: The Chamber did a national survey that found we’ve got to do something to tell young people the auto industry is an industry that is solving the problems of global gridlock and environmental challenge. Too often, they feel like the industry is contributing to those problems, not solving them.

MF: The most important thing to give to employees is to give them something interesting to work on. I think we’re at this wonderful inflexion point in this industry where we truly can help change the world.

Henry Ford’s approach was to make lives better for people. You transport that to today to the issues you were mentioning … air quality … global gridlock – you name it. We can actually be part of that solution.

Dawson Bell is a metro Detroit freelance writer.