Before Ford, Hackett built reputation on transforming Mich. office furniture company

on May22

Former Steelcase CEO Jim Hackett, 61, joined Ford’s board in 2013. Last year, he stepped down from the board in March 2016 to become chairman for Ford Smart Mobility LLC.

DETROIT — Jim Hackett, the man reported to be replacing Mark Fields as CEO of Ford Motor Co., is a former board member at the automaker who spent most of his career running a Michigan furniture maker before Fields tapped him to steer Ford’s investments in new forms of mobility.

His automotive experience is limited to the three years he served on Ford’s board of directors, beginning in 2013. Hackett, 61, stepped down from the board in March 2016 to become chairman for Ford Smart Mobility LLC, a subsidiary Fields created to coordinate work in car-sharing, ride-hailing, autonomous driving and other emerging trends.

At the time, Fields praised Hackett as “the right visionary leader — with extensive experience in business development and design — to take us into the mobility services business in the future.”

Hackett was CEO of Steelcase Inc., which makes office furniture, from 1994 through 2014.

Ford’s March 2016 news release announcing that Hackett would lead the Smart Mobility business called him a “consumer-focused” leader, saying he transformed Steelcase “from a traditional office furniture manufacturer to a company that would change the way people work.” Fields and Ford’s executive chairman, Bill Ford, have frequently spoken of their desire to spark a similar revolution within the automaker.

At Steelcase, where he began working in 1981, Hackett encouraged the company to embrace changes in the industry early on to get ahead of competitors. He was known for being an intent listener and finding innovative solutions to important matters.

“Jim has a way of looking at knotty problems from a very different angle and very different point of view,” Birgit Klohs, CEO of The Right Place, an economic development group in Grand Rapids, Mich., told the Grand Rapids Press in 2014. “He brought a lot of good ideas to the forefront.”

Hackett oversaw a major reorganization at Steelcase that involved cutting the company’s workforce dramatically and eliminating more than half of its facilities. Among those he had to personally pink slip was the best man at his wedding.

He met with many of the laid-off salaried workers personally, eating breakfast with them and offering them assistance with networking or benefit issues.

When Hackett left Steelcase in March 2014, he appeared to be relishing the prospect of a relatively quiet retirement. Instead, later that year, he agreed to become interim athletic director at his alma mater, the University of Michigan, a position he held for 16 months. He said he hesitated but ultimately agreed to take the job because “sometimes you do things for God and country.”

At the university, Hackett made a big impact despite his short tenure and lack of athletic management experience. His biggest legacy was hiring Jim Harbaugh as the school’s head football coach, a move that instantly vaulted the program back into the national conversation after a troubled seven-year stretch.



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