By Drew Ianni
April 14, 2021
I recently sat down (virtually) with Ford’s CTO Ken Washington to discuss driving innovation, leadership during a crisis, the future of mobility and more (the full interview is below).
When asked what was top-of-mind, Washington replied, “we’re learning how to be successful in a new reality…and the pandemic showed that Ford is also in a position to help others”. Washington was referring to how Ford converted its manufacturing plants to build personal protective equipment (PPE) at the height of the first pandemic wave noting, “we produced over 75 million pieces of PPE equipment and it was something we were more than happy to do.”
As the conversation turned towards what Washington and his colleagues have learned about the future of work, he mentioned that remote work “has been an amazing accelerator for learning how to take waste out of the system…and we’ve learned that these digital tools have more flexibility and capabilities that we gave them credit for in the past.”
Washington also discussed how the company learned to sell differently in 2020 stating, “we’ve learned how to sell our products in a virtual way…we’ve had to create new ecosystems and digital tools that our dealers can leverage to sell and market our cars virtually.” And this was critical for the company as it had three major, highly-anticipated product launches on the board for 2020 including the next evolution of the Ford F150, the electric hybrid Mustang Mach E, and the revived Ford Bronco. “We learned how to execute a virtual product launch”, Washington adds.
As Washington discussed the customer of the future and their customer experience expectations, he noted “we have teams dedicated to the science of customer experience..and those teams have direct access to our leadership teams.” He describes this organizational structure as a new form of “co-creation”. The customer experience teams also work with Ford X, the company’s innovation lab and accelerator, to stay on top of emerging technology trends and reporting on the current, and prospective, customer signals captured through their digital apps and touchpoints. “We are getting direct telemetry about what our customers are actually using and what they are not using.” Washington also noted that it is critical to look outside the company, and even outside the automotive industry, to stay on the cutting edge of customer expectations and demand. “Customer trends are not just shaped from within our industry. They are shaped by digital trends in other industries – what are customers doing with their smartphones? How are they leveraging advanced tech and smart homes? What are their expectations around voice recognition? – And so we spend a lot of learning from other industries and translate that into developing our own technology roadmap and strategy.”
Reflecting on this past difficult year and how Ford will continue to innovate and remake the company in 2021 and beyond Washington stated, “It takes a village. Innovating is not the research team’s job. It’s everyone’s job in the company”.
View the full interview below and hear more from Ken about electric vehicles, autonomous driving and unleashing innovation across the enterprise: