Ford Motor Company's Next CEO On Innovation

Mark Fields on how great companies become innovative companies.

May 12, 2014 at 6:05PM


Ford COO Mark Fields gave the keynote address at last month's New York International Auto Show. Fields will become Ford's CEO on July 1. Photo credit: Ford Motor Company

Even though it didn't have any major new models to announce, Ford (NYSE:F) had a big presence at last month's New York International Auto Show.

Ford celebrated the 50th anniversary of the original Mustang's debut by unveiling a commemorative model -- and with an epic stunt at the Empire State Building. The company also showed off its refreshed-for-2015 Focus, and many key Ford executives were on hand.

Those executives included Ford's Chief Operating Officer, Mark Fields. Fields opened the New York show's media days with a keynote speech that framed the show as a showcase of innovation.

Fields's speech played off of the 1964 World's Fair -- where the original Mustang was unveiled, and which Fields attended as a small child -- to talk about innovation, the characteristics of innovative companies, and how Ford is looking to the future of transportation.

It was a fascinating speech, one that got even more fascinating with last week's announcement that Fields will soon succeed Alan Mulally as Ford's President and Chief Executive Officer. 

We (the Motley Fool's John Rosevear and Rex Moore) were in the room when Fields spoke, and we captured the speech on video. In light of Ford's announcement of Fields' impending promotion, we've decided to share excerpts of the speech that -- we think -- shed light on the current thinking of Ford's brain trust at a moment when the company is preparing for a significant transition. 

In this excerpt, you'll hear Fields talk about the lasting significance of many of the innovations presented at the 1964 World's Fair. Fields mentions Ford, of course, but he also goes into some detail about the presentations made by IBM (NYSE:IBM) and Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) at the Fair, and about how a company can use its culture to foster innovation by its employees.

Check out this presentation by Ford's next CEO, and scroll down to leave a comment with your thoughts.. 

A transcript (provided by Ford) of the excerpt is included below.


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Mark Fields: What's striking about the 1964 World's Fair is that many of the innovations we saw there were phenomenally successful, and are still with us today. 

As you saw, IBM was there, showing new ideas in character recognition and giving the public the chance to personally interact with a computer for the very first time. Disney was there, wowing visitors with pioneering animatronics, an elevated roadway for Ford's Magic Skyway, and the hugely popular It's a Small World display that later moved to Disneyland.

And Ford was there, too, with the introduction of Mustang – an entirely new class of vehicle, with two doors, design flair and a long list of options. My dad lifted me on his shoulders to get a look at the new Mustang. I didn't realize the significance of what I was seeing at the time, but by the size of the crowd, I could tell it was a big deal.

Without a doubt, the 1964 World's Fair was one of the biggest showcases of innovation ever seen. And it was clear then, as it is now, that innovation is driven by individuals, and by companies, who look beyond commonly held beliefs to find new ways and to defy constraints to accomplish three things.

  • First, they understand the reality that the world will change
  • Next, they anticipate how that change will affect consumers
  • And finally, they anticipate consumers' spoken wants and unspoken needs

Now, if you master all three, the reward is not only massive business growth, but the chance to change the world.

After the World's Fair, IBM sales skyrocketed. In 1966 alone, the company hired 25,000 new employees and built new manufacturing facilities in the United States and Europe. More importantly, though, IBM changed the world – first with its mainframes and then by helping bring personal computers to the average person.

Similarly, Disney has grown dramatically, from a motion picture company in 1964, to the largest media company in the world today in terms of revenue. Even more so, Disney has made the world a better place – entertaining millions with a sense of wonder and imagination, and bringing families together.

And then there's Mustang, an instant cultural sensation that became one of the world's most iconic vehicles, reaching 9 million sales.

John Rosevear owns shares of Ford. Rex Moore has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford, International Business Machines, and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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