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Ford CEO: Jim Hackett Biography

Executive Profile

Ford CEO: Jim Hackett

Early Life

Jim was born on April 22, 1955 and grew up in Ohio. His family ancestry can be traced back to both southern and central parts of Ireland; particularly, counties Waterford and Cork in the south to County Carlow in the east and County Galway in the west. The Hackett’s “moved to Ohio in 1852, leaving his great-grandfather, William, the last to be born in Ireland, in 1851,” documents Irish America.

Being the descendant of Irish farmers, the family didn’t have much money to spare. Hackett often jokes that he is the youngest of four boys because his parents didn’t have enough funds for more children. He reflects on the super-competitive nature of his brothers while growing up, “we’d go, ‘hey, let’s go play football,” then, “they [people in the neighborhood] would say ‘no, because the Hackett’s always get in fights!'”

Jim explains how that experience trained him early on for conflict management. “My brothers say I was the sister they never had – I was the peacemaker!” He also confesses how his size came in handy at times, “I was pretty big too so I had some sway, physically, in those fights.”

Taking into account his father was an All-American at Ohio State University, and his older brother a linebacker who played in the Rose Bowl, Jim saw football as a means to earning a higher education.”I loved football but I knew that I was going to pay for college so that’s how I got drafted into that,” he says in an interview with Goldman Sachs.

University of Michigan

Hackett fought his way onto Michigan’s football team, initially being moved around at various positions, however, finally finding his home at Center. For those unfamiliar with the center position in American football, it is a more intellectually demanding role on the squad. Slate determines that “the most important guy on the offensive line—and the second-most important offensive player, behind the quarterback—is the man in the middle: the center.”

One crucial note in Hackett’s football career is that he played for the practice squad and pretty much sat on the bench throughout his time at Michigan. Make no mistake, the young man was no lackluster athlete, he gave his all every down while lining up against the starters who were All-Americans, in turn, earning the lifelong respect of legendary head coach, Bo Schembechler.

“I’m the same guy that sat the bench that’s now running Ford Motor Company. Maybe in a folded way, it’s helped me understand everybody’s job at Ford because I understand what it’s like to be in that level of the organization, ” he says.

There’s something about being an eternal underdog in this man’s story. He’s the guy who couldn’t rely on talent alone, that had to put in the extra work, and in doing so fueled a dedication for his craft that few could match. Unfortunately or maybe, fortunately, in this case, life doesn’t always have fairy tale endings and Jim never really got a genuine shot to start on college gameday.

Coach Bo Schembechler

Hackett played for Coach Schembechler while he was in the middle of one of the most decorated head coaching careers in college football history. In what amounted to a 20-year tenure, under his guidance, the University of Michigan amassed a record of 194-48-5 and won or shared 13 Big Ten Conference titles. Though his teams never won a national championship, in all but one season they finished ranked, and 16 times they placed in the final top ten of both major polls.

Having coached at Miami University before taking on the job at Michigan, Schembechler’s career record is 234-65-8; earning him his place in the College Football Hall of Fame. Only Nick Saban, Joe Paterno and Tom Osborne have recorded 200 victories in fewer games as a coach in major college football.

Schembechler was conducting one of his sacred pre-game staff meetings when Jim unexpectedly interrupted the gathering. Author of Bo’s Lasting Lessons, with former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, John Bacon, makes clear, “No one interrupts a staff meeting before a game.”

He goes on describing the directions given to Bo’s assistants, “If your boss, the athletic director calls, you are to take a message. If his boss, the president of the university calls, you are to take a message. If the President of the United States calls, and Bo was very close to President Ford, you are to take a message.”

Bacon found himself in disbelief when he learned that Schembechler would turn down a call from the oval office. Coach Schembechler reassured him, “Bacon, it was not my job to talk to the leader of the free world, it was my job to beat Purdue!”

With winning the nearest football game his highest priority, Bo made sure his staff understood, “However if the third team demonstration center comes down with a personal problem without an appointment, you are not to ask him what it is. If it’s personal, he won’t tell you. You are not to ask him to come back tomorrow; if he couldn’t sleep last night, he’s not gonna come back tomorrow. You are to get me out of that meeting without any delay whatsoever and I’ll talk to that guy for as long as he wants to talk.”

A Crucial Conversation

“My view of a Michigan man was established by Jim Hackett, who was our center on the third-string; it was how he knocked himself out every day without complaint and rallied all of us as a fifth-year senior,” said former Michigan quarterback John Wangler. Bo fully grasped that although Hackett didn’t really play in games, he was absolutely essential to holding his team together – particularly the practice squad.

“I interrupted because I thought I should be playing more and I waited until my last year to ask him; which really wasn’t that smart. I never missed a practice in four years. You think, well if you’re not starting [how hard could it have been]? I actually had a big job going against the talent,” Jim says.

During an interview with the Detroit Economic Club, he points out the two artificial hips he had installed due to injuries he suffered while playing, mentioning, “That’s from being a center who didn’t really take a down off in practice in four years.”

Bo explained to Jim, “the guy your playing against is the noseguard for the defense and he’s an All-American of course; he’s an All-American because Jim Hackett sees him more in practice every day than the rest of the Big 10 combined. He has more plays with you per week than he’s got against Purdue, Michigan State or Illinois and you have pushed him to be an All-American noseguard!”

“That is one reason why we are the number one team in the country right now,” he continues, “I can’t tell you what to do Jim but I can tell you, don’t think for a second, that what you’ve done already is not acknowledged, appreciated, and respected by all the coaches and the seniors too also all get it. They all get what you’re doing.”

Jim remembers, “the whole discussion with him was about how when you have this drive to compete and you’re not realizing what you think is the reward – how there is a reward. I can get really emotional telling that story because it drives me today.”

Career

Therefore, this incredible work ethic he procured remained unfulfilled for half a decade; that is until Hackett was given an entry-level position at Proctor & Gamble after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1977.

Proctor & Gamble

A fresh recruit in P&G’s food division, Jim found himself working alongside future executives such as Steve Ballmer, Meg Whitman, Scott Cook, and Dave Brandon. He often thinks there must have been one helluva HR person at the time!

Hackett’s wife, Kathy, who he married his senior year of college, found work at a furniture business called Steelcase. As the company experienced rapid growth, they eventually poached Jim from Proctor & Gamble.

Steelcase

Steelcase is a United States-based furniture company founded in 1912 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The company produces office furniture, architectural and technology products for office environments and the education, health care and retail industries.

Early into his career at Steelcase, Jim worked in a variety of marketing and sales positions. Within three years, he was promoted to regional manager in Houston. By 1986 he was named director of national accounts and in 1990 became Steelcase’s Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing.

Turnstone

In 1993, Hackett was offered the opportunity to be President of Turnstone, a Steelcase company created to meet the office furnishing needs of small businesses and home offices. “I may be one of the few CEO’s in their 60s that actually did a startup in my lifetime. It was around the future of work when we were going to have internet-based companies ordering things. In fact, Michael Dell and I both had the same ad agency in New York building our catalog systems,” says Hackett.

While trying to learn the future of office space design, Michigan Live reveals that Hackett “spent time in California rubbing shoulders with technology pioneers from Apple founder Steve Jobs to IDEO founder David Kelley. Steelcase bought IDEO, which created the first Apple mouse.”

“No one worked the way IDEO did, but they didn’t have a proprietary reason to be that way. They were just ahead of their time — by two decades,” says Hackett. “They worked as team, it wasn’t hierarchical. It wasn’t just a hippie commune, they were really well run. When we hired them and the work we did, we were ahead of people we competed with. I remember saying, ‘I think this will spread.'”

“He hung out with these people in a humble way, and absorbed as much as he could and took it back to the company,” Rob Kirkbride, senior editor at The Monday Morning Quarterback, “You are seeing the results of that now in products.”

Hobnobbing with Silicon Valley pioneers convinced Hackett to shift his company’s focus away from just selling work stations to a more all-encompassing goal of helping clients create team-oriented environments. He even developed research to help companies understand why this new model of office space would enhance the productivity of employees.

“I think the way I viewed how the world was going to change was viewed as a little outlandish,” admits Hackett.

Steelcase CEO

Jim describes how Steelcase, private at the time, found itself in the position of looking for a new CEO, “The family, in its succession, was debating whether there was an internal family candidate or should they go outside. So they went outside and they brought a guy in that didn’t work out. Three years into his tenure he left!”

Hackett was just 39 years old when the companies board approached him requesting that he become the next Chief Executive. “There are better people for the job and I like doing my own thing [Turnstone],” he told the Chairman. Reluctant to take no for an answer, the Chairman then asked Jim to think about it.

So it would be that after consulting his wife in 1994, Jim Hackett was appointed CEO of Steelcase.

Tough Decisions

Hackett’s predecessor, Jerry Myers, left him a company that logged a $70 million loss on the year and disgruntled employees who had already attempted to unionize and who were likely to try again. Jim realized that the companies business model was going to have to change – which meant laying off people who could no longer serve a purpose within the new vision.

“A lot of people had to leave, and yet I was trying to make the case that if we aren’t modern, we are going to be dead,” he says. “It was really difficult because I genuinely felt the pain of everyone’s departure.”

Having to layoff the best man at his wedding was particularly emotional, he adds, “I had to feel or otherwise you would lose touch with what they were going through. It was painful so we worked really hard about the ceremony of what we are doing. we had to do it with great care. These were all great people.”

As sad as letting valued employees go may be, it’s important to recognize as Hackett did, that without adaptation, the undefeated gears of history will unforgivingly crush any organization resistant to change.

Growing Profit Margins

Stepping into a brighter future, Steelcase pioneered a new era for the furniture business. The companies Nurture brand began making furnishings for the health care industry feel more residential than institutional. Mike Dunlap, an industry analyst, praises the concept, “Nurture epitomizes the feel of crossover furniture!”

Implementing cutting-edge technology into product designs also played a significant role in the rise of Steelcase. According to Michigan Live, the company made a profit of $56.7 million on sales of $2.75 billion in 2012, representing organic growth of 14 percent. While the stock price has declined since its initial offering of $28 in 1998, it more than doubled in the last five years of Hackett’s tenure; trading in the $15 range by the announcement of his resignation in 2013.

“I felt like the team was ready and we had a good successor,” Hackett determined when discussing the reasoning behind his departure. “When we did the 100th birthday, it kind of brought that all that to light, and changed our morale even one notch even higher.”

After serving a year as Vice-Chairman of Steelcase to help ease the transition of his successor, he left the company as entirely as an exceptional CEO can in 2015.

Athletics Director

While working his way out of Steelcase, Hackett found himself getting talked into the job of “Interim” Athletics Director at the University of Michigan. “Some jobs are for God and Country,” said the man pitching him this position that offered less money and more headaches. After doing some soul searching and consulting his wife, Jim was appointed to the role on October 31, 2014.

Landing Jim Harbough

What was originally planned to be a few months snowballed into a fifteen-month endeavor that could very well go down as the most productive period of time in the history of Michigan’s athletics department. To begin with, after fostering an intimate relationship with San Francisco 49ers head coach, Jim Harbough, Hackett received a majority of the credit when headlines across the nation screamed the announcement of Harbough’s return to Michigan as head coach.

On December 30, 2014, Harbough was made the highest-paid coach in the history of college football.

Then-redshirt junior center Jack Miller praised the deal, “I knew it was going to be something special if we got it done. Kudos to Jim Hackett for doing that. … We hit the home run everyone was looking for.”

Nike Contract

On July 6th, 2015, the Michigan athletics department secured a landmark deal on a Nike apparel contract. According to The Michigan Daily, the financial figures of the deal were released later in July, totaling $169 million over the 15 years of the contract. Over the course of the contract, the money will be divided into $76.8 million in cash, $80.2 million worth of apparel and $12 million in up-front money.

“This decision, this partnership is about more than Michigan athletics,” said Interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett. “At the core, it is about our University community and it is about two great names reuniting for an opportunity that speaks to more than uniforms and apparel.”

“The University of Michigan ranks high among the world’s great institutions of higher learning and enjoys a rich, tradition-laden history in college sports,” said Joaquin Hidalgo, Vice President and General Manager, Nike North America in last week’s announcement. “We eagerly look forward to bringing out the best in each other.”

The deal additionally included requirements that Nike hires at least three summer interns from the university each year at $15,000 per student and hosts two community events in Ann Arbor each year.

Resignation

“It began with President Schlissel calling and asking if I could help,” Hackett said while addressing his resignation in December of 2015. “I have another friend in business who said sometimes you do things for God and country. I love the University, and I felt compelled to come and help.”

“I could not have asked for more from a leader,” Schlissel said in a statement. “He stepped up at a moment of need and has served the institution with great distinction. Personally, he has been a pleasure to work with and I will always owe him a debt of gratitude.”

Ford CEO

Hackett joined Ford’s board of directors in 2013. While with the board, he served on the Sustainability and Innovation, Audit, and Nominating and Governance committees. In March of 2016, he was then named chairman of Ford Smart Mobility, a subsidiary of the automaker.

Ford Smart Mobility is a unit responsible for experimenting with car-sharing programs, self-driving ventures, and other concepts aimed at helping Ford better compete with Uber, Alphabet Inc., and an array of tech giants looking to edge in on the auto industry.

“Ensuring the freedom of mobility requires us to continually look beyond the needs of today and interpret what mobility will mean to future generations,” said Bill Ford, executive chairman, Ford Motor Company, and great-grandson of Henry Ford. “This new subsidiary will enable us to develop mobility solutions to address the rapidly changing transportation challenges of an increasingly crowded world.”

Once again, Jim was left in charge of a corporate subsidiary experimenting with the future of an industry. Based on his past, some might be able to guess what happens next.

Appointed CEO

In late May of 2017, The New York Times ran the following headline: Ford, Trudging Into The Future, Ousts Mark Fields As CEO! Amidst growing infighting, decreasing stock value, pedestrian financial performance, and most of all an inability to create a clear universally received vision for the future of Ford, Fields was let go.

“Our world has changed dramatically,” said Executive Chairman, Bill Ford. “Look at the pace of change and the competitors coming into our space, and we need to match or beat that.” Touching on company culture, he added, “We don’t want competing groups. We don’t want one group to feel like they’re the cool group and the other group is left out. It’s not that way at all.”

Truthfully, the future of the automotive industry is murky territory right now. For starters, you have the incredible rise of the electric vehicle that comes with visionary competitors such as Elon Musk-led Tesla. On another front, there is the race to develop self-driven cars that includes gigantic tech companies like Uber and Alphabet (Google). Then, there’s the fact that city highways are already gridlocked by an unfathomable number of cars every day – begging the question, where will the new ones go?

As Ford tries to stay ahead on all of those fronts, they can’t forget about their usual foes such as General Motors, Toyota, Chrysler, Honda, and every other car producing company on the planet! Facing these challenges is a tough ask for anybody.

Harkening back to his days as a third-string center, Hackett is used to taking big hits in uncertain times, therefore, after leading the companies most future-oriented division, he accepted his appointment as CEO of Ford Motor Company in 2017.

Product Releases

In the few years since Hackett has taken over control of the company, Ford has had two of the most exciting product releases in the automotive industry. First came their Mustang Mach-E; what may be the most legitimate competition Tesla faces in the electric vehicle arena. Then, like a majestic beast galloping westward toward the setting sun, the Bronco came vividly back to life!

Bronco

The all-4×4 Bronco brand is Built Wild and ready to deliver thrilling experiences with its heritage-inspired style, engineering and smart off-road technology, plus innovative features to help outdoor enthusiasts create adventures in the most remote corners of the world.

“We created the Bronco family to elevate every aspect of off-road adventure and equipped them with class-leading chassis hardware and exclusive technologies to raise the bar in the rugged 4×4 segment and take people further into the wild,” said Jim Farley, Ford chief operating officer. “They’re built with the toughness of an F-Series truck and performance spirit of Mustang – and come wrapped in one of the most stunning and functional off-road designs that’s true to the original Bronco design DNA.”

The all-new Bronco re-enters the scene with an all-4×4 lineup with production beginning in early 2021 and first models arriving in Ford dealerships next spring. Bronco owners can choose from an extensive lineup of more than 200 factory-backed accessories for maximum personalization, enabling dealers to provide outfitting-on-demand for each customer’s individual adventure needs.

Mustang Mach-E

For the first time in 55 years, Ford is expanding the Mustang family, bringing the famous pony into the electric age with Mustang Mach-E, an all-new, all-electric SUV born of the same all-American ideals that inspired the best-selling sports coupe in the world.

“At the first-ever Detroit Auto Show, Henry Ford said he was working on something that would strike like forked lightning,” said Bill Ford. “That was the Model-T. Today, the Ford Motor Company is proud to unveil a car that strikes like forked lightning all over again. The all-new, all-electric, Mustang Mach-E. It’s Fast. It’s Fun. It’s Freedom. For a new generation of Mustang owners.”

On a Final Note

“He was the kind of guy you could almost predict would be successful.” – Coach Bo Schembechler on his third-string center, Jim Hackett.