Fast Company: How do you lead a legacy company like Ford through the major shifts the automotive industry is facing today, not to mention the economy in general?
Bill Ford: The only way to do it is with constant communication—and painting a picture of the future for our employees so that they understand both the challenges of what we’re up against and the tremendous opportunities we have going forward. And then get them excited and invested in those opportunities. The most important thing is to let them ask anything that they want to ask. It’s not enough to just stand up and give them a speech and tell them what’s on my mind. I really need to hear what’s on their mind. The worst thing you can do is mislead them, so if I don’t have all the answers I’m not
going to pretend like I do.
FC: You hired Jim Hackett to run the company earlier this year. What led you to this decision?
BF: In my life, I’ve met very few original thinkers, and Jim is one of them. He was also a very successful CEO at Steelcase, somebody I believed could blend big strategic thinking and operational excellence.
FC: What do you think will be the largest hurdle your company will face over the next decade?
BF: The biggest challenge is going to be to keep the essence of our culture while hastening the clock speed at which we operate. It means making sure that our entire company can move at the speed of software even as we’re continuing to develop hardware. It’s doable, but it’s a change.
FC: Ford was founded 115 years ago. Is there a piece of leadership advice that you think works as well now as it did then?
BF: My great-grandfather [Ford Motor Co. founder Henry Ford] had a famous phrase. He said, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said, ‘A faster horse.’ ” The very foundation of our company was disruption. That’s our heritage.
This story was adapted from the Fast Company Innovation Festival.