DETROIT -- In 2009, Neel Mehta was a freshly minted MBA from Duke University and was entertaining job offers from computer maker Dell Inc. and global consulting firm A.T. Kearney.
Then, during a recruiting event on Duke's campus in Durham, N.C., Mehta came across a Ford Motor Co. rep, and his career plan quickly changed.
Mehta, 31, recalls: "He was talking about how every Friday, just to balance his work and life, he'd work from home. It resonated with me that I'd have a work-life balance."
So Mehta moved to Detroit to take an information technology management job at Ford.
Many white-collar workers share Mehta's desire to balance their professional and personal lives. High-tech companies such as Dell and Google Inc. offer flexible hours, telecommuting, job sharing and career coaches. So Ford, which is trying to shed its image as a Rust Belt corporation with a stuffy culture of suits and long work hours, faces a serious challenge to recruit and retain top talent.
While Ford a generation ago attracted the top business-school graduates, it now fights for favor. As one workplace researcher, David Ulrich, says, there is a "war for talent."
"Ford used to get the best," says Ulrich, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and a partner at RBL Group, a human resources firm. "The auto industry doesn't have the sex appeal that the high-tech industries do."
In response, Ford has created tools to let employees work flexible hours and telecommute. It has expanded job-sharing projects and offers career coaches. And it has consulted with Google, the epitome of the new-age employer, about how to improve workplace culture.
"I do believe if we sit down three or four years from now, it's going to feel really different at Ford around work-life flexibility," says Felicia Fields, Ford's group vice president of human resources and corporate services.
She adds: "Ford needs it, and our employees need it."