Ford names industry outsider to lead mobility efforts

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. has tapped an auto industry outsider to lead its emerging mobility division, as the automaker looks to diversify its business operations.

The Dearborn-based automaker on Thursday named Rajendra “Raj” Rao as CEO of Ford Smart Mobility LLC, Ford’s subsidiary working to design, build, grow and invest in emerging mobility services.

“I have spent the better part of my career unleashing the power that exists globally with ecommerce, connected devices and digitization,” Rao said in a statement. “The opportunity now to apply that experience and passion for innovation to helping Ford change the way the world moves is the perfect culmination.”

As CEO, Rao will lead the creation and growth of Ford Smart Mobility’s various businesses, including the recently announced City Solutions business, the Chariot shuttle business and Greenfield Labs, Ford Smart Mobility’s business model incubator.

Rao will report to Ford Smart Mobility Chairman Jim Hackett, and be based in Palo Alto, California. Ford established the Silicon Valley-based subsidiary in March in an effort to expand its to develop alternative transportation strategies and self-driving technologies. Mobility includes vehicle connectivity, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience and data and analytics.

“Ford Smart Mobility is a significant growth opportunity for Ford,” Hackett said in a release. “Raj has deep experience in digital transformation, new business model cultivation and start-up partnerships. He is the right leader to lead the delivery of mobility services globally and bring to life our vision to change the way the world moves.”

Rao, according to Ford, has created, built and transformed businesses operations for iGATE Capital, Brunswick Corp. and, most recently, 3M. As the vice president of digital business model innovation at 3M, Rao led the company’s Silicon Valley digital hub and Internet-of-Things projects, based in Redwood City, California.

He was in charge of developing new business models for the commercialization of customer solutions in the connectivity space with a special focus on smart cities, wearables and digital wellness. Rao also was responsible for championing ecosystem partnerships in collaboration with Silicon Valley accelerators and Internet-of-Things labs.

Hackett, former Steelcase vice chairman and CEO and University of Michigan athletic director, has been working since his March hire to understand where Ford will make its mark in terms of partnerships and acquisitions.

Ford has been methodical in how it’s addressed alternative mobility options like ride-sharing, as well as autonomous and connected-car technologies. Nearly two years ago it launched a series of “smart mobility” experiments around the world. It’s now beginning to implement some of those experiments that it feels make the most business sense.

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