A few weeks ago, I did something I’ve never done before. I flew to Dearborn Michigan. That might not sound so exciting to you, but it really was, because Dearborn is home to Ford Motor Company’s World Headquarters.
My reason for travel was to attend Ford’s second annual trend conference, which had the theme “Further with Ford.” The point of the event was to gather on-line and print media from all over the world, to explore global trends and issues facing consumers forward into the future.
I’m not a car tech, and hardly ever get behind the wheel of my own car, but this event was really not for those media outlets routinely cover cars and car companies. That’s part of the reason our group of editors was so diverse. Most of the people attending had only a handful of things in common (e.g. strong social media presence). There were beauty writers, lifestyle bloggers, mom bloggers, travel writers, eco-interests and more. Ford obviously realizes that everyone is part of their consumer base, and the company is shifting to a more forward-looking, eco-friendly, interconnected view that they wanted to share.
The event began with a welcome speech with Q&A by Bill Ford, who is Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company, and great grandson of the founder, and a send-off by CEO Alan Mulally, the company’s current President and CEO.
There are a few things that really struck me, while visiting Ford. For starters, there is something truly special about Bill Ford. Of course he cares deeply about the company, after all it was his great grandfather who started it. But his environmental focus and genuine excitement for where the company is going (as opposed to just where it has been), is infectious, and very sincere. And, unless the employees in Dearborn are taking “happy pills,” another noteable thing about Ford is the genuine enthusiasm and pride that the employees show for their work, and for the company. You would expect pride from Bill Ford, but it would be difficult for all the dozens and dozens of people we met at throughout the company, to be fake the same feeling. It really does exist. With a workforce like Ford’s, they can’t help but produce wonderful things! Perhaps it is that Ford was close to bankruptcy in 2006 and Bill Ford had to mortgage the famous, blue, oval logo (and a bunch of other assets) to stay afloat. When when the recession hit, Ford (admirably) didn’t accept any of the government’s bail-out money, but pulled the company back to health, on its own. In a recent NPR interview, Bill Ford talked the time he had to tell his family (Ford is one of the few family owned businesses into a 5th generation) about his decision to mortgage precious assets. Asked if telling the family was most difficult thing, Ford replied that it wasn’t (the family offered full support). The hardest thing for him was to tell Ford employees that their jobs could be in jeopardy. He felt like he was letting them down. The brightest moment, according for Ford, was being able to hear the elation and cheers of his employees, when the company got the Ford logo, back! None of this is an act. It was great to see company pride, in action.
But back to the Further with Ford Conference. I was flattered to be among the editors, chosen. To be honest, Ford didn’t give off any overt suggestions that I even write about the conference. But when I could, as did most of us, I tweeted up a storm (@advicesisters). I also posted on Facebook, and made a dedicated board on Pinterest with some of my best photos. While many people will be talking about the panels, and what cars they drove around the test tracks, my focus is really on how the people of Ford changed my perception of the company and its products. By reading this, your mind may be changed, too!
While I never considered Michigan to be a vacation spot, Dearborn itself was a surprise. The land around the city is very flat, and once you’re on the ground, Dearborn appears to be a quiet place with some lovely homes. Detroit obviously needs work, but just outside of the City, Deaborn seems to be a nice place to raise a family (and work for Ford). The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn is worth a weekend visit, of it’s own. But we didn’t have much time to view the landscape, because after the welcome dinner (at Lion’s Stadium, Bill Ford is an owner) and a chance to see Detroit Lions locker room, and stand on the 50-yard line, the 1 1/2 days that followed were packed with activity.
Day one started early in the morning, and ended with a party at “Tech Shop” where people from all over can access high tech tools, to create whatever it is that their vision, requires. Many have become successful entrepreneurs from their initial samples, created there. But during the day, four panels explored the influence societal trends bring to bear on consumers and the transportation choices they make:Streamline & Simplify (with a hands-on demo of how to stream music and other information into your car, from “the cloud”);
Age of Accessible Design (featuring a visit to the design studio where we got to see clay modeling and learn more about the design process);
Urbanization (with thought-provoking information about how youth-oriented urban dwellers are viewing transportation and a presentation about Ford’s partnership with Zipcar, and also how cars may be equipped in the future, to reduce stress on drivers.
Worthy of note was the discussion about how transportation is viewed in emerging markets, as well as established ones, and the challenges surrounding this. Also thought-provoking was a discussion about Eco-Psychology. Some of the discussion was a bit obtuse, but more directly, a visit to the wind tunnel to see how cars are made more aerodynamic, and a chance to check out the materials that Ford uses to make cars “greener” and more eco-friendly, was fascinating (think: soybeans, recycled denim, plastic bottles, and recycled tires, plus the potential for shredded money, dendelions, coconuts, and corn and sugar cane)!
Obviously, there was a lot more information imparted than what I’ve just written above, and each panel brought to us information about how Ford is rising to the various challenges posed by the current and future trends, but you’d probably be ready for your next meal by the time I finished detailing it all.
Here is a brief list of some of the key people who were features on the four panels (in case you want to look them out, and/or learn more):
Eco-Psychology: Adrian Grenier (actor, Co-Founder SHIFT.com); Peter Glazer (Indy Film producer, co-founder, SHIFT.com); Liz Heller (entertainment industry executive); Tim Sexton (Co-founder environmental business policy association E2); Cher Fischer (author and educator, environmentalist).
Age of Accessible Design: Adam Kalkin (architect & artist); Ari Goldberg (CEO & Founder of StyleCaster Media Group); Gretchen Gscheidle (Director at Herman Miller); Christian Siriano (fashion designer & Project Runway winner)
It’s one thing to sit and listen to others talk about what Ford is doing now, and what the company is envisioning for the future, but it’s another thing entirely to experience the cars. first-hand. Day two found us driving (or in my case being driven by expert drivers) in various cars. You can’t even fathom how peppy and exciting an electric car can be, until you’re inside, feel the pickup, and think: : “WOW! I want this!”
And if you want to know just how fast a car can go, check out my wild ride in the Ford Police Interceptor Utility vehicle, on YouTube! We also got to try out the easy-to-love, 2013 Ford Escape, the surprisingly peppy and fun 2012 Focus Electric car, the sexy 2013 Mustang, and had a chance to “go airborne” in the 2012 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor!
In summary, it’s obvious that Ford has not endured all these generations, to be static, and certainly not to fail. Bill Ford and his officers, and every single one of the employees at Ford, are working very hard to make cars that will appeal to a wide variety of needs and interests not just right now, but forward in the future. While you can’t have a crystal ball to know just what will happen next, keep your eye on Ford….they will be surprising you!
Can just a few days with a company, really change someone’s perception? Yes, it definitely can. When I think of “Ford,” now, I associate it with an eco-friendly, innovative, trend-oriented, exciting company whose officers and employees truly believe in it. If you go to the Ford Motor Company Official Website, the first thing you see, right at the top of the page next to the iconic, blue, oval Ford logo, is the slogan: “Go Further.” Believe it! Ford is doing good things today, but no doubt, going forward, they’ll be doing great things.