Ted Cannis is one of those executives who makes their bosses look good, and when the boss often has been Ford Motor CEO Jim Farley, that’s a great place to be.
In June, Cannis was appointed chief of Ford Motor’s new Ford Pro division for commercial vehicle sales and services after already elevating the crucial commercial side of the automaker’s business—and that after serving as the tip of the spear for Team Edison, a dedicated group for battery-electric vehicles that spawned the groundbreaking Mustang Mach-E SUV.
After Cannis helped Farley deliver the company’s impressive performance on its Capital Markets day in May, explaining and talking up the huge possibilities for Ford’s commercial business to Wall Street, the company’s stock strengthened. And on June 1, Farley appointed Cannis as CEO of Ford Pro and as a corporate officer.
Executing his quick turnabout in strategy for Ford, particularly a new embrace of EVs, has required Farley to rely on lieutenants he can trust, because it’s a wild ride. Pressed for why Farley has turned to him to honcho a commercial business that already is nearly a $30-billion enterprise for the carmaker, and is expected to reach $45 billion by 2025, Cannis cited familiarity, like thinking—and performance.
“I was running advertising for Ford when Jim joined” the company in 2007, from Toyota, as global head of marketing and communications, Cannis said. “Then he was my boss at our Russian joint venture in Europe. And he selected me as global director of BEVs, to lead strategy and business execution, for Team Edison.”
To helm the newly created Ford Pro enterprise that encompasses all of Ford’s commercial products and services, Cannis said, Farley “needed someone who could work across the business, who was extremely customer-focused and already a believer in electrification, software and data.”
Ford Pro is so important because Ford is the undisputed monster of the commercial-truck business in the United States, with outsized shares of important categories ranging from full-size trucks, to vans, to police vehicles. That’s exactly the kind of competitive edge Farley wants to redouble as he remolds the company.
The commercial-vehicle side also is on the front lines of the company’s strategy not just for electrifying vehicles but also for helping customers with their own electric-charging needs. And it’s in helping companies ranging from big corporations to a plumbing outfit with two Transit vans where Ford is very advanced in generating vehicle data about usage and ownership costs and in translating that into helpful information for customers to use to manage their fleets.
In fact, Cannis said, managing their vehicle fleets has become an increasingly important function within companies as well.
“Traditionally, the commercial space was important but really handled by a fleet manager,” he explained. “What has changed dramatically—because of electrification and the modem-enabled, IoT nature of the vehicle now—is digital capabilities. The conversation inside companies has totally changed now, and it’s the CEO who’s looking at expanding new businesses and using information from vehicles to do that. There also are new sustainability standards to meet.
“So now for this fleet manager, he may have the CEO, the CIO, the CMO, and the chief sustainability and innovation officers now being concerned about changing the [commercial-vehicle platform] and stating it in a whole new way. The audience looking at this space is night and day, even versus a year ago.”
Partly for this reason, Cannis is beefing up his own staff, bringing in and elevating a handful of Ford executives as well as recruiting outsiders such as Tracey Pass, chief human resources officer, who previously was vice president of human resources for Walt Disney Co., and Wanda Young, chief marketing officer, who previous was CMO of Samsung Electronics America.
“We have to explain how this collection and ecosystem of services at Ford Pro can help companies run their businesses better, and new services under that umbrella will have to be marketed,” Cannis said.