Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor and diplomat, to serve as adviser to top Ford execs

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Jon Huntsman Jr., the former Utah governor, businessman, diplomat and onetime presidential candidate, is poised to assume an expanded role at Ford Motor Co. six months after he returned to the automaker's board of directors.

The Blue Oval said Wednesday that Huntsman will join the company as vice chair of policy, serving as an adviser to CEO Jim Farley and Executive Chair Bill Ford. Huntsman, who was first elected to Ford's board of directors in 2012 and returned in October, will remain on the board. His new role, which was approved by company directors Wednesday, is effective May 3.

The new in-house position essentially will be an expansion of the role Huntsman has played on the board, the automaker said, lending expertise in areas where he has a deep background, such as government affairs, trade and international politics.

Jon M. Huntsman Jr., director, Ford Motor Co.

In a news release announcing the move, Ford highlighted Huntsman's "vast experience and achievement" and said he would apply his experience to policy issues as the company navigates "a period of profound industry change, including the transition to zero-emission battery electric vehicles."

Huntsman will work across "a range of disciplines," the company said, including government relations and sustainability. He also will represent the company in interactions with certain government officials and other entities around the world.

"Global policy is hugely important to transforming Ford and unlocking great value for customers and all stakeholders," Farley said in a statement. "Jon's background, insights and achievements are unrivaled — as an ambassador and trade representative, a state governor and a public-company executive."

Huntsman, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in international politics, has a resume steeped in government relations, global affairs and business.

He has served in a number of government roles tied to trade and diplomacy, including as deputy U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush. He served as ambassador to Singapore in the 1990s under presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. He was ambassador to China under President Barack Obama, and went on to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Donald Trump.

He served as a Republican governor of Utah from 2005 to 2009. Huntsman previously was an executive at the Huntsman Corp., the global chemicals company founded by his father. 

The expansion of his role at Ford comes as the Blue Oval attempts to grow its market share in China, engineer a costly transition to electric vehicles, comply with tightening government regulations on vehicle emissions, and navigate sometimes thorny issues related to trade and supply chains.

"We've not really seen an era quite like this," said David Cole, chairman emeritus for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. "And that puts emphasis on having non-traditional experience inside of companies like Ford."

The Blue Oval and other automakers currently are facing supply-chain problems that highlight some of the areas where Huntsman could contribute. The auto industry is battling a global shortage of semiconductor chips, an issue the Biden administration and industry leaders portray as an example of the need to boost domestic production and decrease reliance on foreign suppliers.

Meanwhile, Ford is attempting to grow its market share in China, the world's largest auto market and a leader in the transition to electric vehicles. In a reflection of its ambitions for the region, as well as its global push to ramp up EV production, Ford earlier this week announced the creation of a new dedicated battery-electric vehicle organization that will sell EVs directly to consumers in China.

Ford traditionally has been a small player in China, but it has sought to boost its business there under its "Best of Ford, Best of China" strategy. With a refreshed lineup featuring the SUVs and luxury vehicles preferred by customers in the region, Ford has seen its results there improve over the last several quarters.

Huntsman, who speaks fluent Mandarin and has extensive experience in the region, could help boost the automaker's profile there.

Twitter: @JGrzelewski