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How to talk about a turnaround

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

When he was little, James Farley loved cars, enough for his grandfather to nickname him “Jimmy Car-Car.” His mother’s family lived in Detroit and his grandfather worked at Ford’s storied Rouge plant.

As a teenager, Farley worked at a California factory that rebuilt Ford engines. That’s where the 14-year-old bought his first car, a black 1966 Mustang, which he drove across the country without a license.

After college and two years at IBM, Farley went to Toyota. There, he rapidly became a star in marketing, first selling the Scion, then the Tundra, then Lexus.

Soon, Ford came calling. So did the memory of his grandfather.

Double-teamed by Ford executives, including Bill Ford himself, Farley eventually jumped ship last year, stunning the industry as he left a sure thing at Toyota for the unknown at Ford. The U.S. automaker has lost more than $15.3 billion and tens of thousands of jobs over the past two years.

At a dealer convention this spring, Ford’s chief marketing officer addressed the situation head-on. Look at Farley’s words for examples of how to talk about a turnaround:

  • “I believe, in many ways, the future of Ford is the future of our country,” he said. “The work here is simply more important than the work I was doing at Toyota.”
  • “I hope you are ready to save this company,” he said, “because that’s what I’m going to be doing every minute of every day.”
  • “At Ford,” he said later, “it was like the boss was always right. But it is fascinating how quickly the people I work with were able to shift to where they had their own opinions and expressed them.”
  • And still later: “What I’m doing at Ford is in one sense a dream come true. But it’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Do I feel comfortable? Absolutely not. Do I try my best? Yes.”

—Adapted from “A Star at Toyota, a Believer at Ford,” Bill Vlasic, The New York Times.

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