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SPARK OF THE CORPORATE

James Patrick "Jim" Hackett isn’t a car guy. He does not have a conventional résumé to head an auto giant. But he took the reins of the U.S. automaker, Ford, with a vision to make it "the world’s most trusted mobility company, designing smart vehicles for a smart world that help people move more safely, confidently and freely."

Jim Hackett started his career at Procter & Gamble in 1977, but did not stay long because he didn't like the stiff culture there. Without any formal training in designing, the creative thinker led the traditional desks and filing cabinets manufacturer into an innovative industry leader. His credentials had earned him the title of being a "Turnaround Specialist". He is known for his creative management approach to business. A strategic thinker, he has the ability to come up with great ideas while ensuring they are sustainable.

Initial years at Steelcase...

Jim Hackett ran the Grand Rapids, Michigan-based office furniture maker Steelcase in western Michigan for two decades. He poured his heart and soul transforming it from a modest furniture-making operation into a cutting-edge company with $3.1 billion in revenue in 2016.

Jim Hackett joined the company in 1981 when it simply made popular office chairs. He held various sales and marketing positions. He was promoted as the Regional Manager of Houston in 1984 and as Director of national accounts in 1986. The polished salesman and marketer became the Senior Vice President of sales and marketing in 1990. Three years later, he became the President of Turnstone, a Steelcase company for the office furnishing needs of small businesses and home offices.

CEO at 39…

Jim Hackett, rapidly rose through the ranks of Steelcase in 1994 making it a great year in his professional life. In April 1994, he was named Executive Vice president of Steelcase Ventures, followed by Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Steelcase North America in August 1994.

In December 1994, at the age of 39, he was named as the CEO – the first non-family CEO and the youngest of the lot in the history of the company, overseeing all operations of Steelcase Inc. He has, since then, led the company through some difficult times as well as periods of growth. The company went public in 1998. He fixed the corporate culture and assisted the clients to revamp their workspaces. He made it a leader in helping corporations collaborate globally by forming a strategic partnership with design consultancy IDEO, which was acquired and made a wholly owned subsidiary of Steelcase. He helped the corporates catch up with the then trend of team-oriented open work environments as against cubicles.

Embracing changes…

Jim Hackett embraced changes early on to get ahead of competitors. Long before it became a thing, he encouraged his team to shift from a closed-cubicle culture to open office environments that foster collaboration and teamwork. He himself did not have a corner office so that he can be a part of what's happening at the company. According to him, it helped in more open communication, facilitated better connection with employees and crushed the lines of hierarchy. His designs for the workplace aimed at providing a space for reducing friction and amplifying human capabilities.

Steelcase underwent a major reorganisation under his leadership as the recession hit the furniture industry hard in the 2000s. It ended up in slashing 12,000 jobs including that of the best man at his wedding and shutting down more than half of its facilities; without which the company would have collapsed. He was sharply criticised for doing so for the company’s downsizing, but his thoughtful action was later proved right. He met the laid-off employees; went to breakfast with them, provided networking help and offered them assistance with benefits issues. Those meetings were always emotional.

Jim was known for his outside-the-box thinking and leadership. Steelcase introduced innovative lines for open-plan offices, video screens and work teams integrating technology into its products, quite early. After retiring in 2014, he served as the vice chairman for another year to ease the transition to his successor Jim Keane.

Athletic director...

At a time when the football program was at its all-time lowest point since 1879, Jim Hackett took charge and served as the interim athletic director at the University of Michigan, his alma mater, for 18 months and changed its course almost immediately. He led the search for a permanent athletic director and played an instrumental role in bringing former San Francisco 49ers' coach and fellow U-M alumnus Jim Harbaugh on board.

Jim was also a member of the football team of the University under the legendary Bo Schembechler during his college days.

At the helm of the 115-year-old company...

Jim Hackett has been on Ford’s board since 2013 - ahead of his retirement from Steelcase. As a member of the Sustainability and Innovation committee, he worked closely with the Ford senior leadership team in launching the company's Ford Smart Mobility plan. He was also a member of Audit and the Nominating and Governance committees. In March 2016, he became chairman of Ford Smart Mobility, a Ford subsidiary designed to develop and invest in mobility services, which was headquartered in Palo Alto.

In May 2017, three years after he retired from Steelcase, he was asked to take the reins of Ford. He almost rejected the offer and suggested to consider an insider. When pressed further, he turned to his family for a decision. His wife suggested that he'd regret the rejection by the time he is 75. One of his sons wrote to him about the great leaders of the world who made their mark after the age of 62, and the other about what the automotive industry could become. It made the case clear.

Driverless technology is under research and development at Ford and Jim and his team are pulling it together to make high-volume, fully autonomous and electric vehicles.

Personal life...

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Jim Hackett graduated from University of Michigan in 1977 with a degree in finance. He is married to his high-school sweetheart, Kathy, and has two adult sons. Jim and Kathy are great philanthropists and are focused in the field of education. An avid reader, he can often be found reading upto ten books at a time. A huge fan of TED conferences, he is a regular at TED conferences for 30 years.

Leadership style...

Jim Hackett is known for his inclusive leadership approach and he delegates a lot. He likes a flatter business structure eliminating bureaucracy. He believes in empowering the management team to take decisions by giving them the right tools rather than him meeting too many people for endless discussions. Giving top executives more responsibility and authority was one of the first changes he made at Ford. He strongly believed that people who feel supported are unbounded in what they can accomplish and in the deep personal satisfaction that they gain from their work.

Associations and memberships...

Member of board of directors of Northwestern Mutual Life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the Steelcase Foundation in Grand Rapids, Michigan
A past president of the Institute of Design Board of Overseers at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Was involved in the formation of the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology, and the Grand Rapids University Prep Academy.
Former member of the board for Fifth Third Bancorp in Cincinnati

Awards and accolades...

Received the Excellence in Business Award from Davenport University, in 2011
Named Business Person of the Year by Grand Rapids Economic Club in 2012

Quotes

I would rather be in the background and be known as a person who’s thoughtful, whom people love to work for, and then the team is in the spotlight. It is the way I was wired.
You can always really be cynical and downtrodden, but it takes leadership with inspiration and hope to imagine the brighter side of things.
I want people to come to work thinking they could have a great day there.
The wellbeing of individuals and the wellbeing of the organization they work for are inseparable. The better off employees are in terms of their personal wellbeing, the better off the company can be – in terms of fiscal fitness, agility and capabilities for innovation and growth.
Solving corporate problems is like a Rubik's Cube because it's not solving one side, it's solving all sides to the problem.

Hope readers caught up the spark …

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