I first became aware of Ford Motor Co.'s new CEO Jim Hackett some time in the mid-1990s when I was assigned to do a profile of him for CNN.
The angle was that Hackett, with a mostly full head of hair then, was a "different kind" of CEO, having turned around office furniture manufacturer Steelcase Inc.
When we arrived at Steelcase's Grand Rapids, Mich., headquarters, we were greeted, as expected, by a receptionist upon walking into the building. Hackett then met us, and led us through the company's work areas. We couldn't walk three feet without an employee hollering a big "hello" to Hackett and having that greeting enthusiastically reciprocated.
Then Hackett said, "Let's talk in my office." Funny guy. He led us across an open format workspace to what looked like a cross between a round phone booth and a UFO that had landed smartly between two cubicles. Hackett zipped open the sliding door to the booth/office/pod, revealing a padded stool, a stand-up desk/counter and a shelf or two for papers and publications.
No corner office for the big cheese? No, indeed. Hackett explained his digs allow him to be a part of what's happening at the company, fostering more collaboration and connection with employees and reducing the lines of hierarchy that can infect a worker's morale and productivity.
It all results in more open communication, Hackett explained. Employees know they have a fairly open pipeline to the boss and the boss can get answers or advice more quickly. If he needed privacy for meeting with outsiders, well, there were conference rooms for that.
Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford, explaining why he chose Hackett to take over as CEO of the Blue Oval, emphasized communication at Ford needed to be improved, lines of hierarchy and self-interest needed to dissolve, and everyone at the automaker needed to be focused on the common goal of the company's success. "Jim is a cultural change agent," said Ford.
As I expected, Jim Hackett brought it down to a simple concept: "I want people coming to work thinking they could have a great day there."
Hackett's days of leading a company from a cozy pod are probably over, but his track record indicates he may succeed in bringing Ford out of its cultural shell.