DETROIT -- It was déjà vu Monday at Ford Motor Co.'s world headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., as Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. took the stage and introduced Jim Hackett as the automaker's new "transformational," turnaround-tested CEO to reshape the company's culture.
The last time Ford took the stage for such an announcement was three years ago this month. But instead of Hackett, he was accompanied by then-CEO Alan Mulally and his Ford-bred successor, Mark Fields, whom Hackett replaces.
The atmosphere of the two events was noticeably different given the unexpectedness of this week's announcement compared with the long-awaited appointment of Fields in 2014, but Monday's event should have sounded familiar to industry onlookers.
Ford’s comments, and the reasons he chose the industry outsider to lead the automaker, echoed those he made about former CEO Alan Mulallywhen announcing the aerospace veteran would succeed him as head of the automaker in September 2006.
Back then, Ford touted Mulally's experience leading a revival at airline manufacturer Boeing Co., which included cutting thousands of jobs, enduring a strike and championing a successful new aircraft. He also noted Mulally's "personality and team-building skills that will help guide our company in the right direction."
On Monday, Ford outlined Hackett's overhaul of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based furniture company Steelcase Inc., which he led for nearly two decades until early 2014. He is widely credited with transforming the corporate culture and cutting thousands of jobs to reshape the company's operations to focus on the "workspace of the future" while continuing the core business.
"This is a time of unprecedented change," Ford said. "And time of great change, in my mind, requires a transformational leader, and thankfully, we have that in Jim."
'The right man'
The Ford board's selection of Hackett to replace Mark Fields less than three years into his tenure comes a week after the automaker announced plans to cut 1,400 salaried jobs in North America and Asia, as it looks to impress Wall Street and reduce costs amid slowing sales and growing investments in new technology.
With Hackett's appointment, Ford (both the company and great-grandson of founder Henry Ford) appears to be attempting to recapture the lightning in the bottle it had under Mulally.
"I promised myself I wouldn't compare Jim to Alan this morning because it's not right," Ford said, citing they are "very different leaders for very different times" at the company. "I'll break my rule just this once. Alan really captured the hearts and minds of our employees and made them feel that not only could we win, but we were going to win and they were going to have fun on the journey. I think that's something very much you'll see from Jim."
Ford reneged again on that promise when speaking on CNBC after the meeting about Hackett being the right leader for Ford's current situation, as Mulally "was the right man for that time."
The similarities between the two executives -- separated by nearly 11 years -- were uncanny to the point that Mulally, who led Ford from September 2006-July 2014, was mentioned Monday at the event and by analysts nearly as much as Fields.
“Hackett has gotten his feet wet with a unique opportunity to see Ford from the inside without drinking the Kool-aid,” said AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan. “Hackett brings that outside perspective that gave everyone a warm fuzzy feeling about Mulally.”
Mulally was 61 when he took the reins of Ford in 2006. Hackett is 62.
He was tasked with guiding the automaker through the greatest financial turmoil since the Great Depression, and successfully did so. He is credited with being one of the few outsiders to enter the auto industry and have a successful career as a CEO -- a steep reputation for Hackett to live up to.
"In many ways, Mr. Hackett’s job may be more challenging than Mr. Mulally’s,” Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas wrote in a note to investors on Monday.
Hackett starts leading the automaker as it faces plateauing industry sales and arguably unprecedented pressure from Wall Street for the automaker to outline a clear strategy as it moves into becoming a “mobility” company -- efforts Hackett, a former Ford board member of three years, has led for the automaker since March 2016.
"Given Ford’s poor share performance in recent months, it’s not very surprising that they should look for fresh leadership," said James Hodgson, of ABI Research. "What's really interesting is the fact that they should opt for the man who has spent over a year heading up their smart mobility efforts.”
Under Mulally, Ford was viewed as having a clear and decisive plan, which led the company’s stock to rally to about 60 percent higher than it is today, despite reporting record profits and ambitious mobility efforts under Fields.
Both Ford and Hackett commended Fields for his leadership, however when it came to future strategy, Mulally’s “One Ford” plan was the one mentioned.
“It worked really well,” Hackett said. “In fact, we’re going to use parts of it in the way that we monitor our success.” He didn’t disclose what parts would be used, but added there would be changes, as the plan “doesn’t handle when there are lots of complex strategy questions.”
Editor's note: A previous version of this story contained an incorrect calculation on Ford's stock price change.