Ford CEO Jim Hackett is still trying to get his arms around the future of the automaker, as underscored by a dramatic move that became public today: shaking up his C-suite and, presumably, his preference for a successor.
Hackett appointed Jim Farley, currently strategy chief, as the company’s chief operating officer and clear No. 2, while Farley’s presumed rival to succeed Hackett, Joe Hinrichs, will be retiring from the company at the age of 53. The 57-year-old Farley will ascend on March 1 by adding responsibilities for all of Ford’s global markets and automotive operations.
“Jim Farley is the right person to take on this important new role,” Hackett said in a news release. “Jim’s passion for great vehicles and his intense drive for results are well known. He also has developed into a great transformational leader with the imagination and foresight to help lead Ford into the future.”
Hinrichs has been the long-time manufacturing guru at Ford and was named president of automotive operations globally less than a year ago, giving him charge of the company’s vast worldwide car-making supply chain.
His had been seen as a bright future at the No. 2 U.S.-based automaker when Hackett replaced his predecessor, Mark Fields, as CEO in 2017 in a shakeup engineered by Ford Executive Chairman William C. Ford Jr. Hinrichs had lost out to Fields when Fields became CEO in 2014. But Hackett, who was CEO of furniture marker Steelcase before coming to Ford, recognized Hinrichs as a key player and brought him back from the sidelines.
As recently as October, in a local magazine profile, Hinrichs was lauded for his “meteoric rise” at Ford and was celebrated for his place in a two-person horse race with Farley, whose own rise at Ford began with his tenure as chief marketing officer, then continued when he helped revive the Lincoln brand. Farley’s role since last year has bene to oversee Ford’s electric- and autonomous-car initiatives, its connected-car strategy and other long-term, strategic concerns.
Hinrichs’ fate may have been sealed after Ford missed fourth-quarter earnings targets and disappointed investors with its guidance for this year. The company has been rocked over the last year by a difficult launch of its crucial, redesigned Ford Explorer utility vehicle, which suffered initial quality problems that occurred on Hinrichs’ watch.
And this year, Ford faces an equally important introduction of a revamped F-150 pickup truck, the most thorough redesign in six years of its most profitable model—and America’s nameplate sales leader for decades. F-150 faces a surging Ram pickup brand and a determined General Motors with its own Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra truck franchises. Hinrichs also was to oversee the launch this year of an important resuscitation of an SUV nameplate, Ford Bronco.
In the release, Hackett, who is 64 years old, thanked Hinrichs for “his tremendous leadership over the past two decades.”