Motley Fool Special Interview: Ford's New CEO Jim Hackett and Chairman Bill Ford

Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) has a new CEO -- and we had a chance to talk to him on Monday.

Jim Hackett, the former Steelcase CEO who had been running Ford's future-tech subsidiary, is taking the top job effective immediately, Ford announced on Monday.Hackett replaces Mark Fields, who stepped down amid concerns about Ford's slipping stock price and falling sales.

A few hours after Ford's announcement, I had the opportunity to speak with Hackett and his boss, Ford executive chairman Bill Ford. We talked about the leadership change and the challenges and opportunities before Ford now.

New Ford CEO Jim Hackett (left) and his boss, executive chairman Bill Ford, spoke to reporters and analysts at a press conference on Monday. Both spoke to The Motley Fool later in the day. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

Here's a look at what we discussed. Remarks have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Reports over the last couple of weeks had suggested that Ford's board was unhappy with the direction of the stock price. It sounds like there was more than that behind this decision.

Bill Ford: The fact is that we are in unprecedented times, both in terms of opportunities and potential landmines. I believe that we need a transformational leader who has done it, who has reimagined a company into a future and then brought that company along with him. We're very fortunate to have that in Jim.

Jim, what needs to be changed at Ford?

Jim Hackett: It starts with the people and how they can be empowered to do their jobs. The decision-making improvements we want to make are about reducing the friction that can build up over time.

Secondly, businesses have to pay attention to fitness. I often say, why did Kobe Bryant start every season learning how to dribble a basketball all over again? It was because no matter how good you were, you had to go back to being really outstanding at the fundamentals. We want to be really outstanding.

And then third, I have an instinct -- and Bill does, too -- I think this is a unique time in the history [of the auto industry] and the both of us have really strong instincts about how we think this is going to play out. It's exciting, we get a chance to redefine and reimagine Ford in a future where there's all kinds of rewards.

At Ford's investor day last fall, Mark and the management team announced a comprehensive plan to turn Ford into an automotive and mobility company that could thrive in the future, as technology changes the nature of the business. I think a lot of us thought that plan was broadly on track, broadly the right thing for Ford to be doing. Jim, is the basic structure of that plan still the course that Ford will take, or do you anticipate some significant changes?

Hackett: That's one of the first things I'm doing -- you've discovered what my calendar is about this week! It's about going back and looking at that. Candidly, I'm blessed with an extraordinary team. We've got a seasoned CFO [Bob Shanks]. I met with him this morning, my goodness! He's got his hands all over that plan. To answer the question specifically, I've got homework to do there.

The components of the future vision of autos -- self-driving, electric vehicles, mobility, etc. -- all point to software as the foundation. Does Ford have the software resources it'll need? If not, what's the plan to address that?

Hackett: That's a great question, and my evidence [that we're addressing it] is one of the key assignments that was announced today. Marcy Klevorn, who was our chief information officer, will retain ownership of IT but be folded into Mobility and Digital Services and our big data team. The combination of those things is to tell you that software is really the combination of data, the engineering, the architecture, and the services. It's a really important rubric to get right and I'm really confident we'll be on that as well.

With the promotions of Jim Farley, Joe Hinrichs, and Marcy Klevorn, and the organizational restructuring, it almost looks like you took what might have been a chief operating officer's role and divided into thirds. How are you thinking about that?

Hackett:I choose to think of it as, I love teams. You have to design a team with two tests: Are these are people that want to work together, and is it small enough so that they can make traction?

Bill and I want to be involved with these folks so that they have support and endorsement and to give them a lot of say in the business, and that's the way it's going to be structured.

Bill, is this a sign that you'll be taking a more active role in the management of the company going forward? Or has it been that you've been active behind the scenes all along and maybe not visible to those of us watching from a distance?

Ford: It really has been more of the latter. I'm here every day. I have been here every day. I've been active every day. But I also feel that my role is not to confuse things. I don't want people externally or internally to say, "Who's in charge around here? What's going on?"

I think there's a slight nuance in this. I've always been someone who is forward-looking. That goes back to my views on the environment and then my views on mobility. The slight nuance is that I have a thought partner in Jim, who has always seen around corners and seen what's coming next. You may not see it necessarily, but he and I are going to be spending lots of time together really envisioning this Ford of the future.

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John Rosevear owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.