Ford CEO Farley Enjoys Revealing Guests And Himself In Podcasts

Jim Farley likes to wear the iconoclast hat as CEO of Ford Motor Co., and he’s just broken another barrier: He’s wrapped up his first season as a podcaster with Spotify, making him the auto industry’s most prominent chief who’s taken to internet broadcasting to spread his message and bolster his company’s brand.

Farley capped his seven-episode deal with Spotify with an interview with another person who’s sui generis: Tom Brady, arguably professional football’s GOAT. The once-reticent Brady has gotten a lot more transparent with the public lately, but it’s likely Farley was the original interviewer to draw out of Brady that his first car was a 1967 Dodge Dart bought from his sister for $500.

“I never knew if it was going to start or not,” Brady revealed to Farley.

Farley recorded the 25- to 30-minute episodes for a podcast about people and cars mostly on Saturday afternoons. He told me that he experimented with this flourishing communication form “for a chance to learn from others — but off the record, as Jim Farley, not as Ford’s CEO.” The lifelong auto enthusiast known in his youth as Jimmy Car-Car also wanted to “get out of my comfort zone and have fun. And it was just fun to talk with [guests] about real basic things about all of us regardless of who we are: our first drive, our first car, the first time you do something wrong. It breaks down the barriers.”

Farley’s guests on “Drive with Jim Farley” have included prominent names besides Brady: talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel; Yochen Zeitz, CEO of Harley-Davidson, of which Farley is a board member; and Dax Shepard, an actor who hails from metro Detroit and may be best known as the husband of another local, Kristen Bell.

But Farley also developed a guest list of diverse lesser names: Patrice Banks, owner of a woman-operated auto-repair clinic in Philadelphia; Emelia Hartford, a car-modification guru who’s a YouTube sensation; and the Duke of Richmond, Charles Gordon-Lennox, proprietor of the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Goodwood Revival in the United Kingdom, one of the wackiest motorsports events in all the world.

Farley said that he’s gotten help in being a better podcaster from advisors ranging from his wife, who’s in the entertainment business, to guests such as Kimmel and Shepard, to Spotify’s producers.

“I knew how to prepare but not how to be myself and how to step out of the CEO’s role for Saturday” recording sessions. “I’m still a professional doing these interviews, but it’s like a different self. And I had to make a lot of corrections quickly because I’d never done anything like this.”

Farley learned that he “had to loosen up, and also not take such a back seat during the interviews. It’s not transactional information flow. It’s a conversation. I never had a conversation on mass media like this. It was a difficult transition for me to be an active listener and interjecter and be an active part of the conversation instead of it being transactional like with media” interviews.

Farley’s interview with Brady sensibly took for granted that the audience for “Drive” understands who this guest is and doesn’t require a catalog of his accomplishments or much other information about him, because his fans already know it. So Farley honed in on Brady’s experiences with and views on automobiles, which might never have been a previous interview subject for No. 12.

One interesting question from Farley was about National Football League stars who get their first big paycheck and quite understandably often make a new car their first big investment.

“Their first paycheck is the first time they’ve ever had that kind of money,” Brady said. “They have $100,000 in the bank and they want to go buy a fancy car. I say, ‘Guys, this isn’t the way to spend your money.’” He added, “Guys who make smart decisions on the field also tend to be the smartest when it comes to buying a car.”

The two prominent leaders also swapped views on learning from failure. “I definitely learn the most from my failures,” said Farley, whose notable lack of major screwups is one reason he ascended to the helm of Ford in 2020.

Brady responded, “You gotta dig deep when things go well,” from the point of view of someone whose professional failures largely have been limited to losing a Super Bowl or two and missing out on some MVP trophies.

“Great leaders talk about the good, but they also talk about the things we screwed up as well,” Brady offered anyway. “When things are going well, you’ve got to be very conscious and aware of why things are going that way. They’re not just going to continue to go great because you roll out of bed in the morning.”

But in the course of Farley’s career, the experience of failure has mainly been on the part of those who bet against his boldest notions.

“The joy I have is developing a product people absolutely love after they had no idea they would even need it,” he said on the podcast with Brady. “For example, the [Lexus] RX 300 SUV, which mostly was aimed at women, absolutely changed the industry. I was the product planner for the [Toyota] RAV4, and for a four-door small pickup. They said, ‘Jim, that will never work,’ and I said, ‘It will work.’ They said, ‘Don’t mention it again,’ and I said, ‘No, you don’t understand. If you just let me build the product, it’ll be successful.’ When guys are wrong, it’s the biggest turn-on for me, still after all of these years.”

Which naturally raised an issue that Farley immediately answered: A lot of people still believe that the new, all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning is trying for a bridge too far by fundamentally changing the nature of the company’s — and the industry’s — most popular vehicle, the gasoline- and diesel-powered F-150 pickup line.

“A lot of people said the F-150 Lightning won’t work, and I said, ‘You’re wrong — you’re totally wrong.’”

Indeed, while Farley has been very busy turning over Ford and leading the electric-car revolution in his industry, his “Drive” interviews have tended to become increasingly self-revelatory. So much so that it’s caused him to put the brakes a bit on his candor.

“There’s an invisible line, and you have to be really thoughtful about that invisible line,” Farley said. “We have the most hourly employees in the United States” of any car company. “We make every one of our trucks in the U.S. I can never forget what my role is, and although I want to be myself on Saturday doing a podcast, I really don’t have that freedom.”

But Farley admitted that he’d like to do more podcasts. “It’s up to Spotify,” he said. “But I enjoyed it. I grew as a person.”

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