When Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company, he led with his instincts. He once said, "If I asked people what they wanted, they would have just asked for faster horses."
Mark Fields, the soon-to-be CEO of Ford, told this short story in his opening speech on the eve of Ford's Trends Conference 2014 focusing on global innovation and sustainability in Detroit, Michigan. It underlies messages that are central to his vision as a leader: staying ahead of the curve and making sure our transportation system is much more innovative and impactful than simply driving from point A to point B.
"Some may view [a car] as a cell phone on wheels, a web portal on wheels, or their largest wearable. If their car is more than just a car, then what's a car company?" Fields asked the crowd of 300 at the event.
Fields has been the COO of Ford since 2012, and has worked for the company for 25 years. As COO, he focused on product development, manufacturing, purchasing, as well as marketing and service, and is overseeing an ambitious product release schedule. He has been a leader in the global business operations and has said he wants to make sure Ford becomes a global leader as a company — not only in the automotive industry, but in all those the auto industry effects.
"This is an industry that touches almost every aspect of the economy ... it is the world's most involved industrial product in terms of how it comes together ... the most involved consumer product in terms of how we go to market, build the brand," he said."
There are about a billion cars on the road today. Within 20 years, that could double to 2 billion and put even more strain on today's traffic and environmental concerns. And those vehicles also have a big role to play in the Internet of Things, Fields said. They function as much more than a transportation vehicle, now that they sync with our personal devices and lives. Much more technology is becoming available — using wearables and sensors in the vehicle being the most integral to the company's future plans — and the number of people on the road is only growing.
"What [that] means for us is we want to be part of the solution," Fields said. "We have laid out our blueprint for mobility, which spells out the technology, business models, and partnerships we feel we need to make the world a better place."
"At Ford, we are not waiting," he said.
That mindset leads into another important vision: making sure Ford collaborates with other companies and industries to progress towards a common goal of reducing carbon emissions and increasing the use of clean technology and renewable energy to build the most innovative, efficient cars on the market. It will require learning from each other's mistakes and successes, he said.
"Innovation is a very deliberate and relentless process, guided by a true hunger to succeed...and a willingness to fail quickly, use that learning, and try again," Fields said. "How do we disrupt our own industry and our own company before others do it for us."