Ford Motor Company's Mark Fields on American Innovation in the 1960s

Mark Fields explains why 1964 was such a fertile time for American innovation -- and how things have changed since.

May 13, 2014 at 8:30PM


Ford Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields, shown unveiling the refreshed 2015 Focus, 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 keyed 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, Fields talks about why the 1964 World's Fair saw the debut of several key innovations. Fields explains how the culture of the time provided the fuel for innovation by American companies -- and what makes today's world a very different place.

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

Yet beyond the sales numbers, Mustang has made driving a passion, with a spirit of freedom, individuality and affordability that resonates across the United States and throughout the world.

So, as we look back, how is it that so much innovation came on the scene at the same moment in 1964? Was there something unique about that time, something that cranked up the clock speed of innovation?

The United States was in the midst of one of the longest periods of economic prosperity – one not experienced before or since. The race to the moon gave rise to the belief that anything was possible. And consumer sentiment and spending were high, literally driving manufacturing renaissance that fueled innovation.

Today, of course, we live in a very different world. Globalization has made commerce more complex and more dynamic. The United States no longer is the only economic powerhouse. And every day, it seems, is a global exhibition of new ideas – all happening online versus at a world's fair.

Yet one thing hasn't changed, and that's the power of innovation and the rewards for those who master it.


John Rosevear owns shares of Ford. Rex Moore has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Ford. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. 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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