Ford abruptly changed CEOs on Monday. Mark Fields, who had run the company since 2014, is out. The new CEO, Jim Hackett, comes from Ford Smart Mobility, a subsidiary focused on next-generation technologies like autonomous cars and ride-sharing.
Three big technological changes — autonomy, electric power, and ride-hailing — are about to hit the car industry. The big question is whether these changes pose an existential threat to incumbent car companies, or whether they can muddle through with modest changes to their core car manufacturing business.
On the surface, picking a new CEO who comes from Ford's advanced technology group might seem like a sign that Ford was taking the dangers of disruption seriously.
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"This transition here is totally out of character for them," says industry analyst Edward Niedermeyer, who adds that leadership changes at the company are normally carefully planned. "Clearly there was some need for some symbolism in terms of emphasizing how important these future technologies are to the business," according to Niedermeyer.
But when you dig into the details, it doesn't seem like Ford is actually doing much to change its strategy. For example, the company's press release announcing Hackett's selection says, rather blandly, that it will help Ford "further strengthen its core automotive business and accelerate a strategic shift to capitalize on emerging opportunities." That's not exactly a call to arms.
If Ford wanted to focus more on emerging technologies, it might have chosen someone with a technology background. That's not Hackett. He made his reputation as the CEO of the furniture maker Steelcase.