DETROIT—Jim Farley's gambit at the outset of the Great Recession to leave a flourishing career at Toyota Motor Corp. to help save a foundering Ford Motor Co. has paid off: In less than eight weeks, he'll become CEO.
While Ford is nowhere near the precarious position it was in when Farley moved from Southern California to Michigan at the end of 2007, the 58-year-old will enter the chief executive's office Oct. 1 with much to fix.
Farley succeeds Jim Hackett who, after a three-year tenure in which he empowered workers to make quicker decisions and started a broad restructuring effort, had not bolstered profits. So, Farley inherits a company that remains out of favor on Wall Street with a balance sheet weighed down by legacy warranty costs and the effects of an $11 billion global restructuring begun by his predecessor.
After Ford botched the rollout of the Explorer in 2019, Farley will have to execute flawless launches of four of the auto maker's most highly anticipated vehicles in recent memory.
He'll also have to continue navigating a changing industry and fend off new rivals aiming to dethrone Ford's most profitable vehicle line—F-Series pickups—with battery-electric offerings that promise eye-popping capability.
And he'll have to do it all amid a global pandemic that continues to threaten Ford's dealer body, supplier network and manufacturing operations.
"While Ford's new vehicle lineup has shown some promise with the Mustang Mach-E and Bronco, we think Farley will have his work cut out to 'right the ship,' as Ford remains in the middle of a multiyear restructuring and we don't see its vehicle sales returning to pre-COVID levels anytime soon," CFRA research analyst Garrett Nelson said in an investor note last week.
But analysts say Hackett established a framework that could set Farley up for success, and dealers think Farley's passion for the industry and strong relationship with the retail network make him an ideal leader.
"He has a strong desire to lead, and he's performed at a high level at every position he's been in," said Sam Pack, a longtime Ford dealer in Dallas who works closely with Farley as a member of Ford's product committee. "He'll be engaging with his employees and with the dealer body. We know Jim, and we have a high degree of confidence in him."
Those close to Farley describe him as an inexhaustible worker who is approachable and asks questions.
"He doesn't know what a time clock is," said Rhett Ricart, CEO of Ricart Automotive Group in Columbus, Ohio. "I'll get text messages from him Saturday morning, Sunday night. He is totally engaged."
This spring, as Congress hashed out a $2 trillion economic stimulus package in response to the pandemic, Farley spoke daily with Ricart, this year's chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, about what could best help Ford's retail network. Ricart, in turn, asked Farley to lobby governors to let dealers at least keep service departments open under shelter-in-place orders.
It was during that time, Hackett said last week, that Farley secured his place as his successor.
That didn't surprise Jim Press, the former Toyota Motor North America COO who worked closely with Farley at the Japanese auto maker. Farley, a lifelong car fanatic nicknamed Jimmy Car-Car while growing up in Argentina, was "born to be Ford CEO one day," Press said.
He has "the right blend of circumstance, tremendous personal qualities and capability, tireless work and good fortune," said Press, who later became deputy CEO at Chrysler Group and is now executive vice president of McLarty Cos. dealership group. Farley, who will be the first Ford CEO to have worked at a competitor, has learned from his previous bosses, Press said.
"From Yuki Togo at Toyota, who represented the highest level of emotional intelligence, to Alan Mulally's leadership genius to Mark Fields' exceptional business talent and Jim Hackett's vision and understanding of the mobility future, Jim has continued to grow and add new dimensions," he said.