Ford CEO Jim Hackett is retiring, the company announced on Tuesday, and he will be replaced by current chief operating officer Jim Farley. Hackett will stay with Ford until October to help with the transition and remain a “special advisor” through March 2021.
Farley has been with Ford for more than a decade, and came over from Toyota, where he launched (among other things) the Scion program. He said in a conference call that he wants to “swing for the fences” while in charge of Ford. “We know our competition today is Amazon, Baidu, Tesla, Apple, Toyota, and others,” he said. “They’re well-financed and voracious companies.”
Hackett was installed as CEO in 2017 after previously running Ford Smart Mobility, the company’s new technologies wing. He replaced Mark Fields, who was pushed out after also spending three years on the job. Hackett led a massive restructuring effort that cost around $11 billion but was ultimately supposed to save the company some $25 billion. That plan involved the company basically abandoning sedans in the US market; rethinking its flailing operations in China, Europe, and South America; and slashing thousands of jobs.
Hackett’s embrace of Silicon Valley was one of the reasons he was tapped to run the company. Ford and other legacy automakers have spent the last few years grappling with potentially existential threats like Tesla, self-driving cars, ride-hailing services, and micromobility.
While in charge, Hackett helped broker a global alliance with Volkswagen that will see the two automakers collaborate on trucks and vans, autonomous and electric vehicles, and more. Ford invested more than $500 million in Rivian and is working with the buzzy EV startup on an all-electric vehicle for the Lincoln brand (though another vehicle collaboration has been canceled). He took Ford’s $1 billion investment into an unheard-of self-driving car startup called Argo and helped develop a potential commercial service — all while recently netting the automaker $3.5 billion by breaking off a piece Argo and selling it to Volkswagen.
Not all of Hackett’s new tech initiatives have paid off or matured in such obvious ways, though. He showcased something called the “Ford Transportation Mobility Cloud” at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show that, at best, has disappeared into the background of what Ford is up to these days. He also has been a big proponent of so-called “V2X” technology (“vehicle to everything”) that involves making cars smart enough to talk to each other and the local transportation infrastructure — another idea that mostly remains on the horizon.
Meanwhile, Hackett’s grand restructuring plan did not stop Ford from losing money before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, or appreciably boost its stock price. The company lost $1.7 billion in the fourth quarter of 2019 alone.
“My goal when I took on the CEO role was to prepare Ford to win in the future,” Hackett said in a statement on Tuesday. “The hardest thing for a proud, long-lived company to do is change to meet the challenges of the world it’s entering rather than the world it has known. I’m very proud of how far we have come in creating a modern Ford and I am very optimistic about the future.”
In February, the company tapped Farley to become chief operating officer as part of a management shakeup.
The move was viewed by many as Ford positioning Farley to eventually replace Hackett. When Hackett was asked about that on a conference call, though, he demurred. “I’m having really a fulfilling assignment here. I’ve told everybody that I’ve fallen in love with the company,” he said at the time.