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2021 Michiganians of the Year

Jim Farley's leadership takes Ford Motor Co. to the next level

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When Jim Farley took over as CEO of Ford Motor Co., the company not only faced impatient shareholders, nagging quality issues and perceptions, it was behind the curve on the transition to electric vehicles. It also was navigating a deadly pandemic and historic supply-chain shocks, crises that have hastened permanent changes to the business.

Now, just over a year later, the Dearborn automaker already looks different than it did a short while ago.

Jim Farley, Michiganian
Ford shares rose roughly 100% during Farley's first year as CEO.
The Detroit News

Ford shares rose roughly 100% during Farley's first year as CEO. The company is in the midst of launching a new product portfolio that includes some of its most buzzed-about vehicles in recent memory. It's gone all-in on electrification, a flag it firmly planted in September with its announcement of an $11.4 billion investment in new EV and battery manufacturing campuses in Tennessee and Kentucky. And it has a plan, one that seems to be getting buy-in from Wall Street analysts, investors, dealers and customers alike.

In quick succession in the last year, the automaker made attention-grabbing moves that signaled Farley's ambition to lead the automotive industry's electric and digital future. 

Ford revealed the F-150 Lightning, which now has more than 150,000 reservations. It announced a joint venture to manufacture batteries with SK Innovation. It upped its investment in electrification to $30 billion through 2025. It launched a standalone commercial vehicle business. It announced the new EV and battery plants, its single largest manufacturing investment in history.

The recent moves are all part of a larger shift Farley — who rose through the ranks after leaving Toyota Motor Corp. for the Blue Oval in 2007 — envisions to a digital product that generates recurring revenue streams. And this plan is what he points to — along with his leadership team, a group whom he is quick to credit and which consists of trusted Ford veterans alongside policy and technology heavyweights he personally recruited — as his proudest accomplishment to date. 

Ford CEO Jim Farley, left, speaks to electricians Kevin Johnson, Grady Jackson and Dan Bandlow at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn on Oct. 5, 2021.
Ford CEO Jim Farley, left, speaks to electricians Kevin Johnson, Grady Jackson and Dan Bandlow at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn on Oct. 5, 2021. Robin Buckson, The Detroit News

"This is not about the CEO," he said. "I'd be as happy working on the line as this job. 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 is an intensely personal one for Farley, a car guy who hits the race track in his spare time and the proud grandson of a Ford autoworker, whose memory he frequently invokes.

And though that spare time is limited these days, Farley spends some of it working with the Pope Francis Center in downtown Detroit, an organization that serves people experiencing homelessness. He is heading up a campaign that's so far raised $17 million toward establishing a bridge housing campus in the Corktown area that would include units of temporary housing, a health care clinic, and an outdoor heated shelter area. The center's work, he believes, could be a model for the rest of the country on how to address the root causes of homelessness.

The Rev. Tim McCabe, the center's executive director, described Farley as "a shining example of servant leadership" and credited him with helping the organization on its mission to eradicate chronic homelessness in the city.

Meanwhile, if it seems like Farley is in a hurry at Ford, it's only because he has big ambitions for what he thinks the company can achieve and is eager to see his team's plan through.

“We’re going to be trying to change the world like Henry Ford did with the Model T. Why do we want to wait?" he said. "Detroit isn’t a wait-around place.”

Twitter: @JGrzelewski

Jim Farley

Age: 59 

Occupation: President and CEO of Ford Motor Co.

Education: Bachelor's degree in economics from Georgetown University, degree in management from the University of California, Los Angeles Anderson School of Management

Family: Wife, Lia; three children

Why honored: In his first year as CEO of Ford, Farley and his team navigated through the coronavirus pandemic and related supply-chain issues, began delivering a new product portfolio that has customers excited, improved the company's lagging stock price and articulated a clear turnaround strategy.  

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