Ford CEO Is Guiding the Mustang Towards a Silver-lined Future
From working on his Mustang as a young teen, to building Lexus and rebuilding Ford, Jim Farley never rests on his laurels.
Our beloved Mustang, along with the rest of the Ford-Lincoln lineup, has come a long way since the darkest days of the Great Recession. A lot of that was due to then-CEO Alan Mulally bringing over a man who knew what needed to be done, and that all those things needed to be done quickly.
Today, Jim Farley is helping to guide the Blue Oval to a future where everything from electric cars to autonomous driving is only but one or two innovations away from uphending driving and the car as we know them now. Detroit Free Press recently profiled Farley, whose story began with his grandfather pointing him in the right direction.
“You’ve got to go to college because these are really tough jobs,” his grandfather and an employee of Henry Ford, Emmet Tracy, told Farley when he was little. Farley did exactly that, attending Georgetown University and University of California, Los Angeles in the late 1980s and early 1990s before shipping off not to Ford or crosstown rival General Motors, but the biggest of them all in Japan, Toyota. That decision led to a tough time back home.
“I won’t go into it. But there were many, many, many tense moments for me,” Farley said. “My dad was a naval officer in World War II. Many of my relatives on my mom’s side here in Detroit, I think they were completely baffled by why I worked at Toyota. For my mom, she was so happy to see me come to Ford (in 2007). I myself was unaware of the social impact Toyota’s growth had in the U.S. on companies like Ford.”
“We grew every month for 20 years at Toyota,” Farley said. “It was all about new opportunity, new growth, finding new products that didn’t exist in the market.”
At the time, Farley helped to build the company’s luxury subsidiary, Lexus, into one of the leaders in luxury it is today. Meanwhile, Ford would find itself struggling to grow, leading to the moment in 2007 when Bill Ford Jr. hired Mulally to bring the Blue Oval back from the brink. Coincidently, Mulally arrived in a Lexus, proclaiming that what the luxury brand (and Toyota overall) were doing then, Ford would do so now.
“I was brought from another company because of my experience,” Farley said. “My value was to change the product. There were some people who thought they should be in the job I was in, or maybe felt like we needed more time to study things in ’08. We didn’t have time. We were out of time.”
Mulally brought Farley aboard in late 2007, making him his vice president of marketing and communication. Since then, he’s become Ford’s tech and strategy chief under current CEO Jim Hackett, having got there by turning around Ford Europe as its president, promoting vehicles like the Fiesta through social media, and now, dealing the future of motoring.
Away from the business of running Ford, though, Farley’s life is still connected to Ford. For one, he has a 1965 GT40 he races around the world, gifted to him by a friend who, like Farley, loved racing. And of course, his first car was a black 1966 Mustang, whose motor was trashed. He would spend his time rebuilding the pony after rebuilding engines for other customers, leading to an adventurous road trip at the end of his summer job.
“Unfortunately, I had to stop pretty often to go to the bathroom,” Farley said. “When I showed up in northern Michigan … my dad was like, ‘what are you doing here?’ I said, ‘I drove.’ He said, ‘drove what?’ I said, ‘I drove my car.’ They weren’t very pleased. But I never got stopped. I met the most fascinating people. I got terrible gas mileage in Vegas. I went to a gas station, was running out of money, a guy helped me tune it up in the back of his gas station. My lights went out in the middle of the desert. It was an awesome trip.”
Photos: Detroit Free Press