Harbaugh says Ford’s Hackett ‘makes great’ calls

Daniel Howes
The Detroit News

Ask Jim Harbaugh about the guy who wooed him back to Michigan Stadium and stand back.

He’s got nothing but good things to say about Jim Hackett, the longtime CEO of Steelcase Inc. and the former University of Michigan interim athletic director named today as Ford Motor Co.’s new president and CEO.

“He loves being part of a team,” Harbaugh told The Detroit News in an interview Monday. “He’s humble. He’s hungry to make the team better. Very smart. He makes great decisions.

“He’s got a humility and he listens. Tough? Tough as a two-dollar steak. He’s like your lead blocker. He’s got great ideas. Very much an innovator — and an improver, too. It doesn’t matter whose idea it is. It’s getting to the best idea.”

Ford could use some of that Michigan mojo atop the Glass House, Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. acknowledged in announcing Hackett’s appointment to replace the ousted Mark Fields: speed of decision-making, teamwork and innovation as the Blue Oval prepares to find its way in the autos-and-mobility world.

After a three-year stint on Ford’s board of directors, Hackett stepped away to run the new Ford Smart Mobility LLC, an autonomy-and-mobility startup within the automaker that will now be elevated as part of an upper-level restructuring.

Hackett was the “one and only person” Harbaugh talked to when he was mulling returning to his alma mater as head football coach, an arrival widely heralded on Dec. 30, 2014, by the Michigan faithful.

The new Ford CEO, 62, reminds Harbaugh of two other influential people in his life — Bill Walsh, the Stanford University athletic director who recruited him to coach the Cardinal, and his father, Jack Harbaugh: “They don’t tell you what to do. They ask a question.”

And they teach, through example, offering valuable lessons even to one of the most coveted — and routinely successful — football coaches in the United States, college or pro. Hackett was no different. What did Harbaugh learn?

“You’ve got to have allies,” he said, describing Hackett’s style and “very high” intellect. “You’ve got to be able to work with many people involved in an organization” like, say, the sprawling University of Michigan. “When you do those people make it better. That teamwork is necessary.

“There are layers that have to be involved. Using everybody, everybody involved. That’s the Jim Hackett way.”


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Daniel Howes’ column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHowes_TDN