RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This week, Ford Motor Company got a new CEO. His name is Jim Hackett. His job description? Prepare Ford for a future of self-driving cars and keep the thing profitable by selling trucks. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports that while Hackett has a unique set of skills, that's still an extremely tall order.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Ford Motor Company is kind of different than the other car companies. By the way, this seems like a good time to say that my mom is a Ford retiree and I worked on a Ford assembly line during college. Anyway, the culture of the company is distinct.
MICHELLE KREBS: It starts with the employees. As you know, people who work for Ford, particularly in Detroit, say they work for the Fords. They work at Ford's.
GLINTON: That's Michelle Krebs. She's executive analyst at Autotrader. And she's dealt with at least a half a dozen Ford CEOs over the decades.
KREBS: The Ford name is on the building and on the company. I think there's extra sensitivity by the family. Many of the family members are very involved in the business, Bill Ford being the chairman of the company. And when the company starts getting bad press, I think the family takes that fairly personally.
GLINTON: The previous CEO, Mark Fields, had a nearly 30-year career at Ford. He'd led divisions such as Mazda. And it was during his tenure that the company hit records in sales and profits. But he was the subject of President Trump's tweets, and the stock fell nearly 40 percent.
KREBS: They want a charismatic, cheerleading leader who will rally the troops, especially since times are getting tougher.
GLINTON: Rally the troops? Jim Hackett has a ton of experience doing that. Well, not really troops - Wolverines, actually. Cue the Michigan fight song.
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UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Hail to the conquering heroes. Hail, hail to Michigan, the champions...
GLINTON: Jim Hackett had been the CEO of Steelcase for about 20 years. But more importantly, in Michigan, he'd recently been athletic director at the University of Michigan. And when he got there, they did not have a lot to sing about.
JOHN U BACON: In 2014, in the fall of 2014, Michigan football was at its all-time lowest point since 1879, which is saying a lot right there.
GLINTON: John U. Bacon has written the book on Michigan football a couple of times. His latest - "Endzone: The Rise And Fall And Return Of Michigan Football" (ph).
BACON: The stands were empty. The budget was a disaster. The morale could not have been lower. And they're being investigated for a concussion situation. And that's when Hackett walks in. And within about two months he turned around the whole mood, if not all the finances. And he hired Jim Harbaugh, the legendary coach. Do that around Ann Arbor, you're a hero right there. So he knows how to hire good talent.
GLINTON: Bacon called Hackett the turnaround specialist at Michigan. He says the reason for Hackett's tremendous success was he got the big things right.
BACON: He hired good people. He delegates a lot, which at Ford he's going to have to because he's not an engineer, obviously. So I think the skillset that he brings probably will adapt very well to Ford. And he's certainly got the full support of Bill Ford Jr.
GLINTON: But will Hackett get the support of Wall Street? Already the answer is not really. A report out this week from Morgan Stanley says about Ford, quote, "we believe the earnings situation may need to get materially worse before it gets better." Ouch. Meanwhile, Michelle Krebs the analyst says the challenge for Hackett isn't how many cars or trucks he can sell because the future of driving and mobility is about to change.
KREBS: The question is how does it change, when does change, and when is the payoff for a company? And there are also a lot of new competitors that didn't exist in this space before, and I suspect we'll see some competitors we don't even know about yet.
GLINTON: Krebs says Hackett has to rally the troops not just at Ford or in Michigan, but all of us because there's a car revolution coming, y'all. Sonari Glinton, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARMS AND SLEEPERS SONG, "KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE")
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