Under intense pressure from investors who’ve watched recent market share and profits decline in what is a fast-changing automotive market, 56-year-old Fields officially retired after less than three years in the role, although the feeling from some is that he was pushed to the edge of a company under pressure from traditional players and newcomers from Silicon Valley.
A statement released by Ford talked of “transforming” and “strategic processes” and “nimbleness” that will arrive as part of Hackett’s promotion in his short-lived time at Ford; he has been a board member since 2013 and in 2016 was appointed chairman of the newly formed Ford Smart Mobility division, targeted at taking advantage of a shift towards car sharing and different ownership models.
Prior to that he spent 20 years at office furniture company Steelcase, where he helped position the company as a global leader.
It’s not the first time Ford has looked outside the automotive industry for a CEO; in 2006 it hired former Boeing executive vice president Alan Mulally, who helped guide the company through the financial crisis (Ford was the only one of the big three American makers not to apply for bankruptcy) and boost its sales and profits.
“We’re moving from a position of strength to transform Ford for the future,” said Bill Ford Jr about Hackett’s appointment. “Jim Hackett is the right CEO to lead Ford during this transformative period for the auto industry and the broader mobility space. He’s a true visionary who brings a unique, human-centred leadership approach to our culture, products and services that will unlock the potential of our people and our business.”
In farewelling Fields, who worked for the company for half his life, Ford referred to him as an “outstanding leader”.
In the early 2000s Fields was credited with setting Mazda – then under Ford control – on its current “zoom zoom” path and helping expand its global focus.
He also headed the now-defunct Premier Automotive Group of Ford, which included Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo.
Overseas reports suggest Ford will take a more hands-on role in what many see as the biggest period of change within the automotive industry in more than a century.
The big questions remain as to whether Ford can succeed in its wish to become a “mobility company” as well as a successful car company, in turn leading the way on things such as autonomy.