In an exclusive interview, Mark Fields, president and CEO of Ford Motor Co., peers into the future world of autonomous vehicles, on-demand transportation, and ride-sharing.
Photographs By Joe Vaughn
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"Before we do anything, I gotta give you the tour,” says Mark Fields, CEO and president of Ford Motor Co. It’s 9 a.m. on a gorgeous fall day in Dearborn, and brilliant sunlight is streaming into every nook of his spacious corner office on the 12th floor of Ford’s world headquarters, the iconic Glass House.
Although Fields has already been at work for hours — he typically arrives before 6 a.m. — he’s fresh and energized. The 54-year-old CEO has been on the job for 18 months, but he’s been at the company for virtually half his life, after being recruited by Ford in 1989. It’s obvious the view from where he sits at the very top thrills him. And now he’s spotted something he’s eager to share.
“Right down there I can see one of my competitors,” he says, pointing to the southeast toward downtown Detroit. “GM’s right down there. And on a clear day you can see … all the way up to Auburn Hills (headquarters of FCA US), and on a really clear day, if you look that way, you can see all the way over to Japan.”
He’s joking, but not so much. In his position, Fields not only has to keep a wary eye on what Ford’s traditional rivals are up to, but he also has to stay abreast of a slew of new competitors outside the automobile business who, every day, are forcing the Big Three to access their strategies and goals for the 21st century.
“The way we’re looking at the business, and the way I have to look at it, is to have one foot in today and one foot in tomorrow, right?” he asks — the first of several times that he’ll end a statement with a rhetorical question. “We have to have one foot in today in delivering this month’s sales objectives, this quarter’s financials, this year’s overall objectives. And then we have to have one foot in tomorrow, which is: What is our view of the world 10, 15 years out? And then, based on that world, (we have to) make decisions on where we want to play and how we want to play, and make investments in people and in the business to allow us to be successful.”
As far as achieving his goals in the “one foot in today” category, there’s much to celebrate. At an early morning global town hall meeting just a few weeks earlier, Fields broke some exciting news to Ford employees around the world: Thanks, in large part, to flourishing sales of the F-150 truck and the recently-refreshed Mustang and Escape, among others, third-quarter earnings of $1.9 billion more than doubled the results from a year earlier, generating Ford’s best quarter ever in North America.
Positive trends in Europe and South America also bolstered the good news, as Fields assured his global team of a strong fourth quarter, too, despite a predicted increase in material costs and signing bonuses that were part of the recently renewed four-year contract with the United Automobile Workers.
“We positioned this year as a breakthrough year for us,” Fields says, “and part of it was all the record launches we had in 2014. We had 24 global launches, and in 2015 we had 16. So that’s really starting to pay off in the business, and it’s shown in our financial results.”