Farley, the automaker’s chief operating officer, said his top priorities are a “smooth transition” in leadership, fixing and accelerating North American operations to achieve 10% profit margins and accelerating growth businesses such as connectivity and all-electric vehicles to better compete against Tesla.
“Those are growth initiatives that I believe are not in the stock price today,” he told CNBC during a phone interview that also included Hackett. “Not that that’s the only thing that’s important, but they’re growth initiatives that could really add tremendous value.”
Farley, according to Hackett, has been intimately involved in streamlining operations and an ongoing, multiyear $11 billion restructuring plan. The company also is investing $11.5 billion in electric vehicles through 2022.
Jim Farley in 2017.
Luke Macgregor | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Wooing Wall Street
Farley hopes to get Ford back into Wall Street’s good graces, something Hackett and his predecessor, Mark Fields, were unable to accomplish. It’s something only former Boeing executive Alan Mulally, who led the Ford through the Great Recession without bankruptcy, has been able to do in recent decades.
“As far as communicating to Wall Street … one of the most important commitments that we’re making as a team is a clear and specific plan for the company and the company’s transformation,” Farley said. “At this point, we’re running the company for value reaction for many years to come.”
Hackett, particularly early in his tenure, was been criticized for the execution of his multiyear restructuring plan and his lack of transparency.
Credit Suisse analyst Dan Levy characterized the succession as “no surprise.” He said in an investor note Tuesday that he expects Farley to bring a greater sense of urgency and action to the automaker.
Farley said he believes there “is an opportunity” to strengthen relationships with investors, but the company is going to “stick to our initiatives,” including doing what’s right for our company and having “a specific plan people will understand.”
“I can’t handicap how that will be received,” Farley said.
Shares of Ford are down about 40% under Hackett. The stock, which has a market value of $26.1 billion, is about 27% in 2020. Shares on Tuesday surged more than 3% on the succession plans before leveling out at $6.77, up 1.3%.
‘Get serious’ against Tesla
The company will offer several new products in coming years that need to be executed flawlessly, Farley said.
They include the Mustang Mach-E all-electric crossover, redesigned Ford F-150 pickup and Bronco Sport SUV, all of which are slated to arrive by year-end. The highly anticipated Ford Bronco SUV is coming next year and additional all-electric vehicles, including an all-electric F-150 are planned by mid-2022.
“We need to get serious about connectivity to compete against Tesla and we have the scale to do it with F-Series,” Farley said.
Upon being named chief operating officer and Hackett’s heir apparent earlier this year, Farley identified focus areas for the company that included better product launches, getting warranty and material costs down in North America and accelerating emerging technologies.
Part of those initiatives are focusing on Ford’s iconic and core products, including its global commercial vehicle business. Farley said the commercial market is “even more value creation that the retail industry,” which Tesla caters to serving.
“As these commercial vehicles go electric, it’s a huge opportunity for Ford as one of the global leaders in commercial,” the 58-year-old Farley said.
Hackett, 65, said now was the right time to transition to Farley because the company has momentum from its recent product unveilings, including the Ford Bronco and a better-than-expected performance during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was here until I got to the point where I was satisfied with the underpinnings of the kind of change that Ford needed to make to modernize itself,” he said. “One of those things was a successor obvious.”
Hackett previously had not expressed any interest in retiring. In February, amid an executive shakeup, he said, “I plan on staying in this job.” He cited a close relationship with Farley that would “realize the value” the company has been promising.
Hackett said Farley “distinguished himself in an unbelievable” way through the coronavirus pandemic, whichcaused rolling shutdowns of the automaker’s operations globally.
“By doing it the way we’re doing it now, Jim (Farley) gets to plan the next year,” Hackett said. “That’s what we were about. We wanted Jim to be able to take control of the business plan for next year.”