JULY 27 —Dearborn – Ford Motor Company is running at a lofty level of hiring, which is no accident.
The Dearborn automaker is strengthening its senior leadership ranks, particularly where politics and the auto business intersect. It is strengthening its policy and technology knowledge amid a shove to implement the unused growth plan, driving the electric vehicle transition and influencing policy decisions that will shape how this coming is achieved.
As the industry moves strongly toward electric vehicles and autonomous driving, Ford executives see major policy issues looming in capitals around the world. As politics influences policymaking affecting the global auto industry, Blue Oval is turning to putting together a team to deal with such complicated issues as infrastructure, incentives, and highly partisan Washington politics.
Since CEO Jim Farley took the top job final October, Ford has completed the inner reorganization that often comes with a unused president by moving people internally and hiring external employees for key roles such as marketing, unused business, and mergers and acquisitions.
But in a sign that Ford is looking to fine-tune its policies, it has appointed Director Jon Huntsman Jr., a previous Utah governor, businessman, diplomat and previous presidential candidate, as its vice president for policy. The Huntsman appointed Stephen Crowley, a previous federal attorney who worked in the Obama administration, to become Ford’s chief policy officer and general counsel.
“The CEO and the board of directors… they looked forward and said, ‘What we need in C Suite is more experience in politics, more political intelligence. And that’s what they got with these two guys,” said Eric Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “It fits in the stack of building blocks Farley is assembling to carry out the plan.”
All of them are tasked with helping deliver Farley’s growth plan for the company. Called Ford+, it focuses on electricity, provides revenue-generating services enabled through digital connectivity, and grows Ford’s commercial vehicle business. These are the pillars of Ford’s plan to move from one-off transactions with customers to a business model built on unused, recurring revenue streams.
These landmark appointments come as Ford and its auto industry rivals embark on a costly transition to electric and self-driving cars, an effort closely intertwined with government regulations and policies now being negotiated from Washington and Sacramento to Brussels and Beijing. It comes amid tightening environmental regulations as the Biden administration pushes infrastructure legislation with major implications for electric vehicle sales and US manufacturing.
“Most companies take a distinct view of what they have historically done,” said David Cole, president emeritus of the Ann Arbor-based Center for Automotive Research. “If you go back several years,[the automakers]designed cars, made cars, sold them to the dealer, and the dealer sold them to the customer. The role of politics … was very clear. Now, it’s not.”
When developing the Ford+ plan, Farley and his team identified areas where they felt the company needed to improve. This policy includes the customer experience and programs. There is also a focus on modernizing within the existing workforce, developing in-house software capabilities and preparing employees to transition to vehicles powered by electric motors rather than inner combustion engines.
Experts say federal policy will play a more significant role than during previous transitions in the global auto industry. Take, for example, the need to build infrastructure that supports electric vehicles.
“People are not going to purchase cars that they can’t run because there is no electricity for them,” Gordon said. “So this makes politics significant. While they are also moving towards driver assistance and then autonomous vehicles, that will be constrained and driven by political considerations – the policies that politicians make.
New technologies, supply chain crises, and trade issues also take center stage. The industry is currently going through one of the most complicated supply chain challenges ever, for example: a months-lengthy shortage of computer chips that promises to become more pressing as vehicles advance more technologically.
“Whether you’re talking about globalization, or dealing with … China or Europe, or policy issues, or technology issues, those were historically a lot simpler years ago than they are today,” Cole said. “And I think especially when you look at the top level in terms of politics, it’s best to make sure that you’re well connected to every factor that is going to have some impact on the business.”
Enter Huntsman, the Republican, and Crowley, the Democrat. Their roles are wide and global, focusing on policy areas including sustainability, government affairs, international politics, energy and trade.
Huntsman was interested in his opportunities in international affairs, particularly in China. As the world’s largest auto market and one where electric vehicles are being adopted more rapidly than North America, China is the focus of Ford and other global automakers as they look to accomplish the global scale needed to make investment in electric vehicles pay off.
Ford has historically been a smaller player in the region. But it has seen some progress with a unused lineup of products geared toward the preferences of Chinese customers, as well as the promise of unused electric vehicles ready to challenge rival Tesla Inc. over there.
Huntsman is said to have a deep understanding of China’s market, the consumers there, and who’s in politics following serving as the US ambassador to China under previous President Barack Obama. He speaks Mandarin fluently and has extensive experience in the region.
He returned to Ford’s board of directors final year, and in April was named vice president of policy, an expanded role that saw him advise Farley and CEO Bill Ford. Announcing his unused position, the company said he is tasked with working with teams across the company, representing Ford “with some government officials and influencers in the United States and other countries around the world.”
“Global politics is critically significant to transform Ford and unlock significant value for customers and all stakeholders,” Farley said at the time. “John’s background, ideas, and accomplishments are unparalleled – as an ambassador and trade representative, as a state governor and as an executive at a public company.”
Huntsman, a previous CEO of his family’s chemical multinational, Huntsman Corp., served as Governor of Utah from 2005 to 2009. He served as the US ambassador to Russia under President Donald Trump, China’s ambassador under Obama, and Singapore’s under him . Presidents Bill Clinton and George HW Bush. He also had business assignments under President George W. Bush.
And although he ran for president as a Republican, Huntsman is not a partisan strife. He has served in administrations under both parties and has connections on both sides of the political corridor – precisely the considerate of bipartisan pedigree that Ford wants to aid navigate the politics of DC today.
In an age of intense political polarization, experts say companies should take partisan affiliations into account when building policy and lobbying teams. In Ford’s case, Crowley brings the Democrats in, balancing GOP ties between Huntsman and Mitch Pinol, Ford’s chief government relations officer.
“It’s better to be competent to play with both sides, with someone who has a lot of interaction with each side,” Cole said. This is the reality of today, with this political polarization. And it won’t go away soon.
Meanwhile, Crowley brings a distinct considerate of political expertise, energy issues – an significant competence as the industry moves toward electrification. In his hiring announcement, Farley promoted Crowley’s “profound leadership experience at the intersection of law and politics.”
Creeley reports to Farley and is set to work closely with Huntsman. Pinewall and Bob Hollycross, Vice President of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering, are both accountable to him.
Crowley most recently worked as a partner in Latham and Watkins’ Washington office, where he focused on legal policy and regulatory compliance around energy and environmental issues. Previously, he served as general counsel for the US Department of Energy, and prior that he worked in the White House as Obama’s exceptional assistant for regulatory policy and later as a deputy counselor overseeing legal policy.
Crowley, married to Bridget McCormack, Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, was a exceptional assistant to the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan’s Civil Division, and later worked at the University of Michigan Law School.
Bringing in — not someone who was general counsel to a public company, not someone who is a deal-maker — but someone who is energy policy,” Gordon said, by including him on the board as general counsel and chief policy officer.
Huntsman and Crowley are just two of the many additions recently made to the senior leadership team. Late final year, Susie Deering joined Ford as head of global marketing following serving as head of marketing at eBay, bringing with her a background in technology, data and analytics as Ford looks to reorient its relationship with customers.
Ford recently hired Franck-Louis Victor, a previous CEO of French carmaker Renault, to head the carmaker’s unused business platform. In this position, he is responsible for developing a strategic plan that includes both existing and unused capabilities in areas such as self-driving vehicles and mobility service. He also oversees unused ideas developed across the company’s incubator, Ford X.
Open to work
Meanwhile, Ford final month welcomed Doug Power to a newly created position — vice president of corporate development. He came from multinational food giant General Mills, where he spearheaded the company’s $8 billion acquisition of the Blue Buffalo pet food brand.
The University of Michigan graduate has spent 25 years in the mergers and acquisitions business, including stints at Merrill Lynch and two technology companies.
Now that he’s moved to Ford, Power is focused on strengthening the company’s M&A team, developing a coherent strategy that serves the company’s growth plan and identifying deals that fit with what Ford is proactively trying to accomplish.
“I’ve been doing mergers and acquisitions now for 25 years and have worked for four distinct companies,” he said in an interview. “This is the clearest strategy for a company I’ve joined, and it’s also incredibly clear where we can add value from an M&A perspective.”
These areas are consistent with Ford’s plan. His team, for example, can play a role in connected services by acquiring the necessary software capabilities. Another area of focus, he said, will be Ford Pro, the commercial vehicle specialist Ford announced earlier this year. And in terms of electricity, Energy sees potential around electric vehicle charging and the vertical integration of the supply chain.
Ford has already made strides in those areas, for example with its recent acquisition of electric-vehicle-charging provider Electriphi, and its EV battery joint venture with SK Innovation. There are other parts of the supply chain where the Power team will be looking for M&A capabilities.
“We are in the vertical integration strategy phase at the moment, with the packed stack review,” he said. “I imagine that over time, in the near term, we will identify at fewest one or two areas where we will decide, ‘If we can find the right company, with the right capabilities, the right people, it will be better to have that aptitude.’”
He stressed that it is not just a matter of concluding deals, but of taking proactive and strategic steps. He said Ford’s senior leadership is already behind this approach.
Meanwhile, CAR President Emeritus Cole said, “You never work on details outside the context of the bigger picture. Essentially what these ads from Ford are saying is that ‘we have to relate appropriately to the bigger political picture.’” “”