- Current Ford CEO Jim Hackett is retiring in October. His replacement is Ford’s COO, Jim Farley.
- Farley joined Ford in 2007 and has a reputation for speaking his mind.
- Farley will inherit a company in the middle of a pandemic that is also facing a slowdown in sales and a looming recession.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
On Tuesday, Ford announced that COO Jim Farley will become its new CEO in October, when current boss Jim Hackett retires.
Farley, 58, joined Ford in 2007 as the company’s vice president of marketing and sales after nearly 20 years at Toyota and Lexus. He later headed up brands such as Lincoln, Ford South America, Ford of Europe, and all of Ford’s global markets. On March 1, he became the company’s COO.
Though Farley joined Ford later on in his career, he’s long been tied to the automaker. A 2011 Edmunds story reported that Henry Ford’s 389th employee was Farley’s grandfather.
Farley looks to be more of a product person than the suits who dominate automotive C-suites. A 2019 story in the Detroit Free Press painted him as someone who preferred to be “spending time in a garage wrenching on classic Mustangs and vintage motorcycles” while wearing a T-shirt and jeans.
“Properly tuned, my 1965 GT40 goes over 200 miles per hour,” Farley, a cousin of the late comedian Chris Farley, told the paper. “When I get out of the car after a long hard race, you feel so calm and relaxed. It’s my yoga.”
But it’s Farley’s mouth that really sets him apart from CEOs who function as walking press releases, polished and prepared to say whatever the company has prepared for them. In 2011, he made headlines when journalist Bill Vlasic quoted his passionate dislike for General Motors in his book “Once Upon a Car.”
“F— GM,” Farley said. “We’re going to beat on them, and it’s going to be fun. I hate them and their company and what they stand for. And I hate the way they’re succeeding.”
At the time, a Ford spokesperson told Jalopnik and other outlets: “We have not yet seen the book and are unable to comment on the specific quotes. This is a passionate, competitive industry, and we respect all of our competitors.”
Business Insider also reported on Farley’s comments about customer data at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in 2014. “We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it,” Farley said. “We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing.” He later retracted the statements.
Outgoing Ford CEO Jim Hackett spent just over three years at the helm of the company before this week’s announcement. He was 62 at the time of his 2017 appointment and worked directly with chairman Bill Ford (Henry Ford’s great-grandson), on “sharpening operational execution, modernizing Ford’s present business and transforming the company to meet tomorrow’s challenges.” Hackett spent three decades of his career at furniture company Steelcase, whereas Farley joined Ford with decades of car-focused experience and a clear passion for automobiles.
Farley told Edmunds in 2011 that his love for cars helped him do his job better. “Like any business, the car companies can be frustrating and you get upset sometimes,” Farley said. “But my love of the product allows me to come back in the next day with the same level of engagement and enthusiasm.”
Around the time Hackett took over in 2017, Ford said Farley would become its executive vice president and president of global markets. That put him in charge of much of the company, including Ford’s business units across the globe, the Lincoln Motor Company, global marketing sales and service, and overseeing strategy and the development of business models for electrified and autonomous vehicles.
Ford was in a tricky spot then, pairing a falling stock price with various efforts to embrace new technology and become a “mobility company.” Soon after Hackett took over, the company announced a major change in response to buyers flocking to trucks and SUVs: killing off all of its cars except for the Mustang and Focus (the latter of which Ford soon axed as well).
In late 2019, with Hackett at the helm, Ford admitted it had botched the launch of the new Explorer with production issues and other fumbles. The corresponding sales hit to one of its high-selling SUVs didn’t help the company in the eyes of analysts and onlookers.
Farley has his work cut out for him. Ford ended 2019 with sales down by 3.5% over 2018, the COVID-19 pandemic has depressed auto sales and stressed supply chains, and economists predict a recession. The automaker has strides to make before it’d be considered competitive against rivals such as Tesla, GM, Nissan, and Volkswagen in terms of offering electric vehicles, semi-automated driver-assistance, and advanced active safety features.
In late February, Farley likened the sense of urgency at Ford to the 2009 financial crisis.
“Everyone at Ford knows the situation we’re in,” Farley said, as quoted by Bloomberg. “I can see it on the faces of my colleagues and it takes me back to about 10 years ago. I’ve seen the look before.”
“We need to immediately fix the reliability of our cost performance and especially our launches,” he added. “We’re launching very, very expensive products. So the first one is to really fix our execution capability around launches, warranty costs, delivery and revenue. I would say that’s No. 1.”
How Farley will navigate Ford through these waters remains to be seen.