DETROIT — You'd be forgiven for having a tough time keeping up with some of Jim Hackett's musings.
Ford Motor Co.'s cerebral CEO says he likes to think in the abstract and often considers problems along three time dimensions simultaneously.
Hackett views issues in the "now," "near" and "far," likening the view to a bull's-eye with those words in concentric circles. His job, he says, is to manage Ford in each of those circles to ensure success.
That might explain why most of Hackett's public appearances since becoming CEO in May take the tone of a college-level philosophy or physics lecture. He invited a Harvard philosopher onstage this month at CES in Las Vegas to lead the audience through a thought exercise about data privacy, and delved into a discussion of deep learning last week during a fireside chat-style appearance at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit.
The 62-year-old Hackett, a newcomer to the auto industry after two decades running the office furniture maker Steelcase in western Michigan, often recorded Charlie Rose's self-titled TV show for its interviews with leading intellectuals and starts most mornings by scanning Science Daily's newsletter of top headlines. He lists former President Gerald Ford, former University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler and former Steelcase Chairman Robert Pew as heroes for their integrity.
He drives a Mustang Shelby GT350, although he's the first to admit he's not a car guy. But Ford's board of directors, including Executive Chairman Bill Ford, think he's exactly the kind of leader the 115-year-old automaker needs as it charts a course for the future.
"There's great people with great minds that can't get people to follow them, and then there's people who have followership that don't know where they're going. I'm humbled by how difficult that is," Hackett told Automotive News Publisher Jason Stein during the World Congress appearance. "The clarity of what this future is, is undeniable to me. I'm humble about that, but I think I have a pretty good handle on what that is."