Thousands or millions of business leaders around the world are, in a large sense, going through what Ford CEO Mark Fields is going through. But we could not have a clearer, sharper distillation of the issues they’re all facing than we get in the person of Fields. A Hollywood script writer couldn’t do better.
Here are the essential elements: He’s running a big, old, successful company in an industry that was arguably the most important one of the 20th century. For decades his company knew who its competitors were, but now it’s under threat by companies that no one ever dared to imagine were in the car business, and the competitive battlefield is shifting from issues that his company had utterly mastered to issues that were mostly insignificant or unheard-of in the industry. Fields has to lead this company from the old era into the new while continuing to deliver for his shareholders, the most prominent of which is represented by an executive chairman whose last name is Ford.
As they used to say in Hollywood, a strong scenario, no?
I like what Fields is doing. For an efficient rundown, check our recent coverage here, here, and here. The big picture is that he’s pushing Ford into an unknowable future more enthusiastically than any other big automaker’s chief. He seems to embrace the reality that his business is being fundamentally transformed. So, for example, he just introduced a free mobile app called FordPass, which helps you borrow and share vehicles while traveling, find and pay for a place to park, schedule service, and more – regardless of whether you’re a Ford customer. Why would he do that? Because if the app catches on – a big if – think of all that Ford will learn about driver behavior and preferences. Want to lease a car with six friends? Ford just introduced a plan for that. It’s experimenting with Internet-connected bicycles. All this is decidedly weird unless a company is deeply rethinking its business.
Fields is doing a great deal more, but these examples at least convey his direction. His actions are easy to talk about and hard to do. The transformation he’s attempting requires above all a culture change that’s hugely challenging in a big industrial company. It also requires wise capital allocation; none of this stuff is free, and Fields has to deliver performance today while preparing for the day after tomorrow. He’s doing it: Yesterday Ford announced record profits and said it will send shareholders a special dividend of $1 billion on top of the normal dividend.
What makes Fields’s story especially gripping is that we have no idea how it will turn out. He seems to be doing everything right; if only that meant it will work. Real life isn’t like that. The Fields story is made for the movies, but we just don’t know if it will have a Hollywood ending.
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What We’re Reading Today
The Rams will move to Los Angeles
NFL owners voted to approve Rams owner Stan Kroenke‘s $1.8-billion stadium proposal, moving the team from St. Louis back to L.A. A joint proposal by the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders would have moved both teams. But NFL owners sided with Kroenke in part because of the team’s history – the Rams played in L.A. from 1946 to 1994. The owners gave the San Diego Chargers the option to join the Rams in L.A., which Chargers chairman Dean Spanos now weighs. He has a year to decide; if he declines, the Oakland Raiders will have the opportunity. ESPN
Google says it wants to work with more automakers
At the Detroit car show, Google’s self-driving car chief, John Krafcik, said “We hope to work with many of you guys.” It’s a signal that Google is looking for more partnerships rather than manufacturing its own car. Ford CEO Mark Fields and Google were in talks to work together, a potential partnership that is reportedly still under consideration. Reuters
California rejects VW plan
The California Air Resources Board’s rejection of Volkswagen’s plan to bring 2-liter diesel engines up to emission standards could mean the company has to buy back hundreds of thousands of vehicles. CARB said it rejected the proposal because it lacked “information for technical evaluation” and didn’t reduce emissions enough. It’s a bad development for VW CEO Matthias Müller as he meets with EPA head Gina McCarthy today. Fortune
Michael Dell set to make billions from the FCC
Over the past few years, Dell has been buying local TV stations through his investment fund, spending about $80 million for various broadcasters, such as a Spanish-language station in Seattle. The Federal Communications Commission now plans to buy many of them back to sell to AT&T and other carriers. His properties, according to prices set by the FCC, are worth as much as $4.2 billion. WSJ
Building a Better Leader
This startup pays employees double the industry standard
While Hometeam’s strategy cuts into profits, the company believes its in-home senior care service is better because it hires its own workers instead of using contractors. Inc.
Before you start building your next startup…
…make sure there’s a demand or need for it. Fortune
More companies are looking at “workations”…
…as a way to unite employees while also giving them a chance to relax. But there’s work to be done on these retreats. NYT
State of the Union
President Obama bashes GOP candidates
In his final State of the Union speech, Obama criticized GOP candidates – without naming names – for “peddling fiction” when saying the economy and America are in decline. It’s an attack on GOP frontrunners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz; Obama accuses them of using fear to rile the Republican base. He said that when candidates diminish Muslims, they makes it more difficult for the U.S. to achieve its goals around the world. The line drew rare applause from House Speaker Paul Ryan. Fortune
Official Republican response notes similar tone
Speaking for the GOP, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said voters shouldn’t listen to the “siren call of the angriest voices.” She didn’t mention Trump by name but said that welcoming people who are willing to work hard and follow the laws should remain an important value. It’s a direct response to Trump’s calls for banning Muslims. Washington Post
GOP candidates share their criticisms
Before the speech, Sen. Ted Cruz said his State of the Union speech in 2018 would note that the Affordable Care Act, Common Core education standards, and the IRS would be gone. After the speech, Jeb Bush criticized the President for not reacting to the Islamic State threat fast enough. Trump simply said on Twitter the speech was “really boring, slow, lethargic—very hard to watch!” WSJ
Up or Out
Google hired former White House economics and security policy expert Caroline Atkinson as head of global public policy. Fortune
TiVo named Naveen Chopra interim CEO and said he will continue as CFO. CEO Tom Rogers will become non-executive chairman. Hollywood Reporter
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IBM won the most patents in 2015
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New Jersey Senate President says the state should take over…
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Google Cardboard to go mainstream
Google has created a new virtual reality division. Fortune
Should Apple buy Time Warner?
It would get HBO if it did. Fortune
“It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency. I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.”- President Barack Obama, in the State of the Union speech, discussing the partisan divide that worsened in his presidency. Fortune
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|Produced by Ryan Derousseau|