Bill Ford on Reinvention, Mobility Future, Green Journey: Further with Ford
On the first night of Further with Ford – a 3 day event hosted by Ford – Author and journalist David Kirkpatrick sat down with Ford chariman Bill Ford to talk about the direction of Ford vehicles and what we should expect in the future. We gathered at Ford Field – the home of the Detroit Lions – to listen to the interview, and ask questions ourselves.
David asked the first question: I didn’t realize how committed you have been to a set of ideas throughout your career. I was at Fortune for 25 years, and I have written about so many companies that it’s quite frequent the visionaries get squeezed out. You (Bill) have the name, which must have helped you, but how have you made so much of a change that this company operates – your environmentalism for example is just striking.
Bill answers about how he wasn’t an environmentalist until he left college. He felt for me to love the ford company in the future, we had to re-invent ourselves. The board at Ford felt he had to separate himself with the activists.
“It was hard because I couldn’t find anyone else in the company at a remotely high level who shared where I thought this company had to go.” says Ford. “For my great fear was not only was this the right thing to do, but if we didn’t get on the right side of the issue, the next generation would never come work for us. We would never get the best and the brightest. We would end up like the tobacco industry, where the employees would have to apologize to friends and family for working there, and I never wanted that to happen.”
He goes on to talk about reinventing themselves. There were some environmentalists that didn’t want him to be green. “If the enemy isn’t the enemy anymore – how can we raise money?” Ford said.
Ford found it tough to get traction. Bill thought about leaving. “I don’t know why I am doing this” he told his wife. He wanted to start his own company. But his wife came back and said “Don’t you think you’d have a bigger impact if you could help change Ford?”
The change started happened in 2006. They went through a near-death experience. Ford’s competitors went bankrupt and Ford didn’t. That is when Bill sat down with Alan Mulally. He quips “It was so refreshing that we could finish each other’s sentences.”
That evening, Ford and Mulally put together 2 big bets. They wanted to be known as the fuel economy leader. Period. Bill said they were anything but that. The second was we wanted to be the technology leader. To deliver the first, they had to be the second.
Ford did not take government money. What’s the best explanation why you didn’t do that?
“We went ahead and borrowed 23 billion dollars when no one else was lending money, and before the credit window closed. I can tell you it was the integration of our regional organizations into one global organization. All that would be true. But I believe the biggest was our employees. Our corporate culture is different from any other out there, and you would expect me to say that, but what’s really interesting is when people come to Ford from other companies, they say that. They simply wouldn’t let us fail.”
Do you think the employee enthusiasm was enhanced?
Bill knew the newer people loved what he was saying. But the higher-ups were thinking “harrasy”. His message resonated with the troops, but the generals were not getting behind it.
Summary of Mobility Future.
Another issue Bill saw was coming at us called global gridlock. “We have 1 billion cars and 7 billion people. By mid-century we’ll have 9 billion people, and 4 billion cars on the road.” Ford continues “We better get on with solving this global gridlock.”
Ford started investing in companies like Zipcar. Ford felt that if you cannot move healthcare and food in urban areas, then you have a bigger issue. Making new business models is key to this.
Bill also talked about his grandfather’s idea of “Opening the highways to all mankind”. Henry Ford didn’t invent the car – he made it available to everybody. Bill and Ford uses the term Democratization of Technology. SYNC was installed in the least expensive cars to start. Urban mobility was a re-interpretation to Henry Ford’s idea.
Bill stated that Henry Ford created a car made out of Soy. He knew it could be done, so he made one. Unfortunately, the technology wasn’t ready for it.
There are many more points Ford makes in this video. A great 45 minute listen on how Ford is integrating and maybe expanding past auto. Urban planners, policy makers and more. Most important, how Ford will evolve beyond a car company.