Incoming Ford CEO Jim Farley’s Toyota connection

In his 13 years at Ford, Jim Farley has been head of global marketing. He led Lincoln. He ran Ford of Europe. He was president of technology and global markets. For a few more days, he’ll be COO.

But when he succeeds Jim Hackett on Oct. 1, he’ll bring to the table something that no other Ford CEO has provided: experience at another automaker.

The company that hired the Georgetown and UCLA grad 30 years ago is known as a pretty good one, too. It’s Toyota.

And two other Jims, who mentored Farley during his 17 years there, aren’t a bit surprised by what’s about to unfold at their former rival.

“From the very beginning, it was obvious he was going to go someplace,” recalls Jim Press, the former head of Toyota Motor North America who earned a seat on the automaker’s board in 2007.

Hard work, sincerity and passion were traits that stood out, Press says. So, too, did a spot in Farley’s heart for Ford, where his grandfather worked long ago.

Jim Lentz, who retired six months ago as North American CEO, said he took notice of Farley when they were paired on a truck series team in the mid-1990s. Farley would later succeed Lentz as head of Scion and Toyota Division marketing before steering Lexus.

In a conversation last week, Lentz shared vivid memories of Farley’s drive, his dedication and his desire to learn and get better.

He recalls Farley once spending a week on site at an ad shoot, making sure everything went right. He would later soar during a big test onstage, introducing a new Tundra before thousands of dealers.

Toyota is not known as a place for harboring dissidents. But there’s an art to speaking one’s mind without ticking people off, Lentz said. And Farley was good at that, too.

That’s all history now. The question today is what elements of the Toyota experience will best serve Ford and its new chief executive starting Thursday.

For Press, it’s going to be Farley’s skill at building relationships. As the industry tackles the challenges of autonomy and electrification on tight budgets, partnerships and cooperation will be keys to survival. Farley’s strong bonds with dealers will help, too.

In the same vein, Lentz sees Farley fostering teamwork in a culture that over the years has yielded a story or two of individual feuds. And he’ll demand excellence.

What should employees expect? Farley was asked that question in a recent Automotive News Daily Drive podcast.

His answer: “A warm handshake. A teammate. A servant leader. Someone who loves product, who loves our team, who wants to protect our values that make us different as a company. And someone who has a plan, a plan that involves everyone on the team. I know that they’re all really excited to grow the company profitably. We’re going to have a lot of fun growing the company.”

That’s a nice message for the honeymoon part of the journey. Things inevitably will get tougher in a tough time to be a CEO.

Not that it’s ever been easy.

By my count, in the years since Henry Ford II stepped down more than 40 years ago, about half of his successors have completed their expected terms. The others have been shown the door — or have shown themselves the door — early.

In the podcast, Farley, 58, gave a sense that there won’t be much time for Champagne this week.

He was asked what the late Emmet E. Tracy would tell his CEO grandson today. Farley came back with a response his former Toyota bosses would recognize: “He would probably say, ‘I’m proud of you, but get back to work.’ ”

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