LOS ANGELES – Jim Farley doesnt hide much.
Making his debut as Ford Motor Co.s marketing chief last week at the Los Angeles auto show, Farley freely shares some of his untested ideas for turning around the Blue Ovals fortunes. Maybe Lincoln should be a global brand, he suggests. Maybe Ford should pay its customers some cash when their vehicles break down.
Farleys candor is unlike most Ford executives, who wouldnt dream of publicly sharing such ideas before sending them through round after round of meetings and approvals. The sense of urgency is clear for Farley, who began full-time last week as group vice president of marketing and communications.
I dont have much time, says Farley, 45. Im here to break through the clutter in a very honest way and tell U.S. customers in any way I can, youve got to look at Ford.
Fords sales and marketing unit cant be the weakest link, he says. It must become as competent as other disciplines within the company.
A lot is riding on Farleys shoulders. CEO Alan Mulally, who recruited Farley from a star track at Toyota, says getting back on customer consideration lists is Fords biggest challenge. Recent marketing efforts, such as the Bold Moves campaign, stumbled.
90-day game plan
The focus is on North America for now. Farley says marketing decisions will emerge by the first or second quarter of 2008
About half of Farleys first 90 days will be spent with dealers. Reconnecting with dealers at an operational level is crucial, Farley says, because the work of reaching out to consumers largely lies in dealers hands.
Farley planned to visit a half-dozen dealerships and dine with about 100 California dealers last week.
He spoke with Ed Witt, a Lincoln-Mercury dealer in San Diego, on the convention center floor last Wednesday, Nov. 14.
Ed, you know what I need? Farley asked. Witt replied, Cars sold. Farley, now laughing a little: No, Im not a typical factory guy.
Instead, Farley told Witt that Ford wants to get more intimate with local dealer advertising groups and decentralize some marketing.
Its like a 50-50 deal, Farley told the San Diego dealer. Its not like you merchandise the old stuff, and Ill take care of the new stuff. Those days are over. Were going to do this together, but its going to put a burden on you.
Witt said dealers could handle that. God bless you. Welcome aboard, he told Farley.
Flex and F-series
Another 30 percent of Farleys time will go to specific marketing and sales tasks for 2008. Key launches are the new 2009 Ford Flex, a seven-passenger crossover, and the re-engineered and restyled 2009 F-150 pickup.
The Flex is one of Farleys biggest marketing tests.
Ford has this really innate ability to develop icons, Farley said. This could be an iconic product, if we handle it the right way.
Farley estimates the balance of his time will be spent working with Ford product chief Derrick Kuzak. The aim is to make sure that customer desires are being met in Fords new products.
Every product for us has to work, Farley said.
Farley said his experience at Toyota, which excelled at spinning multiple body silhouettes off a single platform, comes into play here. Being in touch with the wants and needs of consumers will help Farley advise Kuzaks team on vehicle silhouettes to pursue.
This fall probably wasnt the best time to uproot to Detroit. After losing twins, Farley and his wife, Lia, became parents of two babies in 2007: a newborn daughter they adopted seven months ago and a son born just three weeks ago.
Farleys wife had a difficult pregnancy, he said, spending the last three months of it in the hospital. Farley was taking care of their daughter with the help of neighbors when the Ford job was finalized.
Everything was going so well at Toyota, Farley said. But 90 percent of the people in life go right, and I like to go left.
Farley has temporary housing in suburban Detroit. He will return to California on weekends until their daughters adoption is final in several months. Then he expects his family to move to Michigan.
Farley already had strong ties to Ford. His grandfather, Emmet Tracy, was among Ford Motors earliest employees. Tracy eventually left the company, became a dealer and owned a Ford supplier plant, where Farley worked during the summer he was 15.
Though some family members resented his choice to join Toyota, Farley said his grandfather loved it. He said, You should go to Toyota. Its the best car company for now. You can come back to Detroit.
Tracy died several years ago at age 103. Farley teared up as he talked about driving to his grandparents graves every January when hes in town for the Detroit auto show.
I wipe off the snow, if its snowing, and I talk about my life, Farley said, before pausing and turning his head to the side. Im going to get really emotional son of a b----, Im not supposed to do that as an executive anyway, its the real deal for me. Its not about money.
His grandfather isnt the reason Farley chose to join Ford. But the connection adds meaning to his role, he said.
Said Farley: Im going to be there forever. I didnt trade in my life in Santa Monica to move around every two years. Im a car guy. Theres only two car companies I really like, and Im on the second one.