Ford CEO Jim Farley is one of a dying breed in American automotive corporation boardrooms: someone who actually loves cars. A career automotive executive, he marks a dramatic departure from his predecessor, Jim Hackett, who spent the bulk of his corporate leadership career at an office furniture manufacturer. And sure, Ford is going all-in on battery-electric vehicles, setting aside tens of billions of dollars to invest in the growing segment over the coming years.
But don’t let that fool you; Jim Farley isn’t afraid of burning a little gasoline every now and again. In fact, before he agreed to be the leader of one of the world’s largest auto manufacturing companies, Farley insisted that he be allowed to continue racing.
Goodwood Road & Racing Contributing Editor Ethan Jupp recently caught up with Ford’s Chief Executive Officer trackside at Goodwood, asking about his racing pastime, his love for vintage cars, and where Ford’s vehicles are headed in the future.
Being A Better Leader
Jim Farley was racing long before he became Ford CEO. Two-and-a-half decades ago, he bought a Shelby Cobra from an older man who, in a scene ripped straight from the movie screen, made him promise he’d race it. Race it he did, and rather successfully at that, until he decided he wanted something he could fit a full cage in and sold just about everything he owned to buy a Ford GT40.
Now, he says, he’s “addicted,” and the racing even impacts his ability to perform in his job. Racing “keeps me grounded as a person and makes me a better leader,” Farley says.
“In racing, just as in business, you want to be nice and pleasant to everyone. Your team is more important than you. Everyone is important in racing and you’ll never be successful if you’re a jerk… It also teaches me to moderate my aggressiveness in business. Never lose your cool. Nothing good is gonna happen when you’re racing a car if you lose your cool.”
The Ford CEO’s love for cars and motorsport has an effect on his philosophy when it comes to Ford products, too.
“I think the most important thing is that cars are not refrigerators,” he told Jupp. “They’re passion projects. It helps me think about how do I restore and preserve the passion in our vehicles. As we’re designing these electrified digital products, I don’t want them to be generic and unmemorable. They can’t be ugly little cars. I don’t think Ford should make just any cars. Ford should make Mustangs, Broncos, Ranger Raptors. I don’t want generic A-to-B products, like Toyota where I came from.”
The Future of the Ford Mustang
Asked about what the future holds for the Blue Oval’s attainable performance coupe, the Mustang, Ford CEO Jim Farley could say only that the S650 will have “a really exciting execution with different variations.” He went on to add that the forthcoming S650 generation will not be a swansong for the pony car – so long as he can help it.
“I think our decision to go to Mach E was very controversial from the traditional coupe customers but I have to say… the internal combustion Mustang was saved by that car, in terms of emissions requirements for the fleet. The best thing that happened to the V8 Mustang is the Mach E.”
And on the topic of a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans – the famous endurance race in France in which Ford triumphed over Ferrari with the radical Ford GT40 in 1966 – Farley said that Ford would like to do it, but maybe not with a new iteration of the Ford GT. The GT is something the Ford CEO refers to as a “forbidden fruit vehicle.”
“We never sold it,” he told Jupp. “I don’t like that. If you can’t use the top tier of racing to solve a problem at the road level and if the customers don’t see themselves in that car, you shouldn’t do it, in my opinion.
“I guess what I’m saying is, would we like to go back to Le Mans? Yes. Would we do it at the prototype level? I don’t think that’s our style.”