DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Hackett likes solving big problems. He did just that at Steelcase, a century-old Michigan furniture maker that had struggled to keep up with the times, and then at the University of Michigan, where the storied football program he played for had faded.
Now, at the nation's No. 2 automaker, he may face his most daunting challenge: ensuring a 114-year-old manufacturer that has traditionally made its profits selling trucks can quickly pivot to an age of self-driving vehicles, shared ownership and new mobility services, all while trying to stave off new competition from the technology industry.
After keeping a low profile in his first four months on the job while he evaluated the business, Hackett is expected to offer at least some initial solutions when he briefs analysts and investors Oct. 3 in New York.
Since his May 22 appointment, Hackett has visited line workers at some of the company's assembly plants, taken multiple trips to Ford's Silicon Valley offices and traveled to meet with joint venture partners in Russia and Turkey. He has already made some big decisions, including reshuffling Ford's senior management team, moving Focus production from North America to China and exploring a strategic partnership in India with Mahindra to help share costs there.
"Jim has an incredible opportunity to lead Ford into its next chapter," Jim Keane, who succeeded Hackett as CEO of Steelcase in 2014, told Automotive News in an email. "He made significant contributions while at Steelcase and we are excited to see how he'll bring his energy and strategic thinking to Ford in this important role."
That next chapter must include shoring up Ford's bottom line after several quarters of earnings declines and making money on products beyond pickups, SUVs and crossovers, analysts and industry observers say.
Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said Hackett could "effect profound cultural and structural change" at the automaker. One example he floated in a note to investors last week was a potential partnership with Google's Waymo unit, because Hackett has deep Silicon Valley ties and could succeed where former CEO Mark Fields failed after talks between Ford and Google broke down in 2016.
Other potential moves could include axing some slow-selling sedans, localizing production of its Lincoln luxury brand in China for that market, partnering with technology companies and clarifying its electric vehicle strategy.
"There's a lot of low-hanging fruit," said Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis at AutoPacific. "They need to be able to react faster to consumer demand."