New Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett

"Extraordinary times call for extraordinary leadership."

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary leadership.

Those are the words Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford used when he announced Jim Hackett as the new president and CEO of Ford Motor Company. 

“Jim has a tremendous ability to lead with vision and integrate that vision into the operations in a way that is seamless and gives great clarity of direction,” Ford said. 

Ford and many others describe Hackett, 62, as a visionary and a transformational business leader.  As the youngest CEO in Steelcase history – appointed at the age of 39 – Hackett is credited with leading the office furniture giant into the future as a global competitor by using innovation to help change the way people work. 

Throughout his 30-year tenure at Steelcase, Hackett – a self-described “lateral thinker” – developed the keen ability to paint a picture of the future by studying and understanding people and designing products and technologies tailored to their needs.  His propensity for innovation was heralded at Steelcase, where he transformed a traditional furniture manufacturer in the red to a multi-billion-dollar industry innovator. 

Hackett’s penchant for successfully developing “big ideas” also was clear in the role he played as interim director of Athletics at the University of Michigan, a position he took on in 2014 after retiring from Steelcase.  In a short period of 18 months, Hackett – a former U of M football player himself under the legendary Bo Schembechler – was hailed for signing renowned football coach Jim Harbaugh to lead the Michigan Wolverines and lauded for landing a $169 million endorsement contract with Nike, the most lucrative deal in college sports. 

David Kelley, CEO of international innovation and design consulting firm IDEO and a pioneer of design thinking, says what makes Hackett unique is his extraordinary mind and big heart.

“He’s wicked smart. He really is,” said Kelley, who has been a colleague and friend of Hackett’s since the mid-90s when Hackett negotiated an equity investment in IDEO to foster design innovation at Steelcase. 

“He’s also very genuine,” continued Kelley.  “You think of business people as needing to be tough and competitive.  He’s that.  But he’s much softer, more big-hearted than most CEOs I’ve ever met.  It’s a totally rare combination, and it works for him.  Hackett really inspires people.” 

Kelley says Hackett has a gift for being able to solve the dilemma most companies face today to come up with great ideas while ensuring they are sustainable.

“It can’t just be an idea that never materializes because it’s not grounded in the knowledge of the customer or what the company’s capable of or it’s too far off,” he said.  “I think Hackett’s forte is in dealing with this tension between big ideas, extraordinary ideas and the ones that are real and sustainable.  That’s where he excels.” 

Hackett was born and raised in Ohio, the son of a veterinarian and an artist. He credits his parents for shaping his ability to think abstractly and from a variety of perspectives. 

“We had science and art at the dinner table,” he said.  “It really helped me see the world from all angles.” 

Hackett and his wife Kathy recently celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary.  They have two sons, Patrick and Rob.  

By: Chris Rahi Kassab