Ford Chief Executive Officer Jim Hackett told a Detroit business crowd on Friday that Ford is an evolving data company rather than just a mobility or transportation company.
“Now my vehicle is a rolling computer,” he told a capacity crowd in the ballroom of the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit for the Business Leaders for Michigan CEO Summit. “I’m going to tell you my business is computing.”
Hackett emphasized the challenge of using artificial intelligence to make roads safer. He noted that “women tell the truth” more than men about their apprehension toward driverless cars.
“Ford’s future is not about giving up the car. I’m here to tell you that. I’ve told the company that. But there are no dumb cars in the future,” he added.
At Ford, the team considers how technology and robotics potentially impact people, including job loss. The company is especially careful not to compromise the trust consumers feel toward Ford, Hackett said.
He wondered if the trust grew from Ford’s decision to decline government aid during the economic downturn or that board chairman Bill Ford is a constant presence in the family business.
He opened the talk, titled “Liberate the Human Journey,” with mention of his age (62) and accomplishments. He said he didn’t seek the Ford CEO role he assumed in May.
“This wasn’t something I was after,” Hackett said. “This was not pre-meditated in any way. I can tell you today, I’m so happy I did it.”
He noted that when he had to lay off people as CEO at Steelcase, the Grand Rapids manufacturer of office furniture, he spent more money on job placement and severance packages than shareholders may have liked.
“These people are suffering because I’m making decisions to let them go,” he said, adding such decisions were harder, given his Catholic upbringing.
The 35-minute discussion, moderated by Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, included a nod to former Apple CEO Steve Jobs (‘I miss him’) and navigating uncertain times.
He noted that Ford has 13,000 employees in the United Kingdom directly impacted by Brexit and the uncertainty that has followed the country’s vote to leave the European Union.
After the talk, attendees said they were inspired and intrigued.
The pace of technology
Belinda Tate, executive director of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, said Hackett emphasized the urgency of understanding the rapid pace of technology.
“Computing is the basis of business for today and tomorrow,” Tate said. “So if you’re not thinking about the role of computing in your business, you’re going to be left behind.”
Barbara Whittaker, president of BW Limited, a business development consultancy, said she liked that Hackett is looking at the future, but wondered if Ford’s vision of that future is clear.
“He’s looking at the company as a data company as opposed to a transportation or mobility company,” Whittaker said. “I think when you lose focus of the main product, you may go astray. That’s my only concern.”
Jarrod Erpelding , a spokesman at Dow Chemical, said Hackett cast a spotlight on the vast changes roiling the auto industry.
“He talked about the complexity it brings not only to his running a business, but changes how we will live,” Erpelding said.
Thomas Willis, a partner at Phoenix Performance Partners, said Hackett’s connection between mobility and trust “blew my mind.”
“He wants to take the autonomous space from a thing we do to a way of being, and, in doing so, engender the trust of customers,” Willis said.
DETROIT FREE PRESS/TNS