Ford's chief lobbyist to depart for SoftBank

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
Ford Motor Co.'s Group Vice President of Government and Community Relations Ziad Ojakli is leaving the company in July. He will join SoftBank Group Corp. as its senior vice president and global government affairs officers.

Ford Motor Co.'s top lobbyist is heading to SoftBank Group, the Japanese technology conglomerate said Friday.

Ziad "Z" Ojakli, Ford's group vice president for government and community relations, is departing the automaker July 15. He joins SoftBank as the technology company's senior vice president and global government affairs officer in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 1.

Until Ford finds a permanent replacement, Stephen Biegun, vice president of international government affairs, will take over Ojakli's responsibilities.

The exit of Ford's chief lobbyist comes as automakers try to influence the policymaking of several issues, including tariffs on U.S. automotive imports, autonomous vehicle regulations and fuel-economy rules.

"Z’s legacy is that he’s built a world-class team in government affairs, and that will enable a smooth transition," said Christin Baker, Ford's government affairs communications manager. Biegun is "deeply steeped in the trade issues," she added.

SoftBank's hire of Ojakli comes as the company makes major investments in the United States. President Donald Trump, according to Reuters, said Thursday that SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son had increased investments from $50 billion to $72 billion.

One investment is a Ford competitor,  General Motors Co. SoftBank Investment Advisers recently said it was pouring $2.25 billion into GM Cruise Holding LLC, the company's self-driving and lidar development subsidiary.

“Ziad is one of the world’s most successful and respected government affairs executives with a proven track record managing issues for large global entities where business interests intersect with public policy,” Marcelo Claure, SoftBank chief operating officer, said in a statement. “As SoftBank delivers on its commitment to invest in the U.S. economy, our global portfolio of companies will benefit tremendously from his expertise.

SoftBank did not respond to requests for comment.

Ojakli's departure is the latest in a series of Ford leadership exits and dismissals, since CEO Jim Hackett took over for ousted Mark Fields in May 2017. In February, Kumar Galhotra replaced North American President Raj Nair, who the Dearborn automaker dismissed for "inappropriate behavior." A few weeks before that, Jason Luo, the former chairman and CEO of Ford Motor Co.’s Chinese operations, resigned.

Since joining the automaker in 2004, Ojakli has overseen Ford’s global government affairs in 110 markets. He also led the company's philanthropic arm, the Ford Motor Co. Fund.

“Z has been a valuable member of the Ford team for nearly 15 years,” Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in a statement. “During this time, he has been instrumental in driving global policy outcomes and leading philanthropic programs that support Ford’s vision for growth and a better world.”