Chief Operating Officer, Ford Motor Co.
By Mike Colias
When Jim Farley was 10 he had a paper route in Connecticut that passed a Ferrari distributorship. Fascinated by cars, he would spend hours there, chatting up the Italian mechanics.
Later, Mr. Farley helped put himself through the University of California, Los Angeles by working at a Santa Monica vehicle-restoration shop run by the late former Formula One champion Phil Hill. The hours he spent revitalizing vintage-car interiors -- stuffing seats and stitching together ostrich skin and other exotic-leather upholstery -- "taught me what made a beautiful car," he says.
That lifelong love of cars put Mr. Farley on a career trajectory that led to his promotion last week to chief operating officer at Ford Motor Co., from head of strategy and technology. The move makes him the clear-cut No. 2 executive behind 64-year-old Chief Executive Jim Hackett.
Mr. Farley takes the operations mantle at a difficult time for Ford. The company's shares have struggled in recent months as Ford missed two of its last three quarterly profit forecasts and this month issued a dimmer-than-expected 2020 forecast.
The underlying problems now are squarely Mr. Farley's to fix: rising warranty costs, steep sales declines in China and troubles getting new vehicles out of U.S. factories and into showrooms on time. He will balance those tasks with the strategy role he has had since last spring, mapping out the company's bets on future technologies like electric and self-driving cars.
Mr. Farley, a cousin of the late actor and comedian Chris Farley, started his career at Toyota Motor Corp., where he launched the youth-focused Scion brand. Since joining Ford in 2007, he has served as marketing chief and ran its European division, and later had responsibility for global markets. He takes the COO job March 1.
Here are four of his most trusted advisers:
Sam Pack, CEO, Sam Pack Auto Group
Mr. Pack has been known to use a laser to make sure the pickup trucks on his car lots are perfectly aligned. "I admire that he's a perfectionist, " Mr. Farley says of the Dallas car dealer.
Mr. Farley seeks out Mr. Pack every month or two for fresh ideas on the often-hidebound world of car dealerships. Years ago, Mr. Pack floated the concept of sending mechanics to business customers to do remote maintenance and repairs, to shorten the time vans and trucks are out of service. Ford recently introduced the program, with Mr. Pack among its first dealers to offer it.
"Sam is a rare dealer who always brings today's competitive reality into my world, into the executive C-suite," Mr. Farley says.
Carlos Tavares, CEO of French auto maker PSA Group
Mr. Farley met Mr. Tavares during his time running Ford of Europe, when the two served on the board of the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association. He recalls being impressed that Mr. Tavares, a fellow gear head, knew the price of a machine used to repair engine cylinder heads.
They later spent time racing together at various tracks in France, including Le Mans and Circuit Paul Ricard. The men normally would confine the discussion to cars and racing, careful not to tread into competitive topics, Mr. Farley says. He sometimes would rib Mr. Tavares for driving a Lola T70 British race car fitted with an engine from Ford's rival, Chevrolet.
"I admire him as a competitor," Mr. Farley said. "I don't talk to him all that often -- but I read his financial statements closely."
Wayne Rainey, president of MotoAmerica
A former world-champion motorcycle rider, Mr. Rainey was paralyzed in a crash during the 1993 Italian Grand Prix. He later founded MotoAmerica, a business that promotes the American Motorcyclist Association's Superbike road-racing series.
The two met at Laguna Seca Raceway eight years ago and talked racing and marketing. Mr. Rainey recalls Mr. Farley asking whether he had considered broadening the appeal of MotoAmerica beyond professional racing to include lifestyle events. He has since added family activities and learn-to-ride sessions to the racing programs, he said.
Mr. Rainey "inspires me because he brings greater purpose to business," Mr. Farley said. "It's not about profits to him. It's about getting a young American to get the chance to become a world champion."
Allan Gilmour, retired Ford CFO
Mr. Gilmour had retired by the time Mr. Farley arrived at Ford from Toyota more than a decade ago. Soon after, Mr. Farley's uncle asked Mr. Gilmour to check in with the new executive. Mr. Gilmour visited Mr. Farley's office and the two have stayed in frequent touch since.
Last spring, when Mr. Farley was tapped to lead Ford's efforts on future technologies, including in-vehicle software, it was Mr. Gilmour who suggested he establish an informal network of outside advisers to acclimate himself. Mr. Farley ran with the advice, seeking counsel from venture-capitalists, including Marc Andreessen, and making contacts at big Silicon Valley tech companies.
"As we've engaged some of these tech companies that are interested in our space, my eyes really got wide," he said. "Those are the kind of people Allan inspired me to engage with."
Write to Mike Colias at Mike.Colias@wsj.com