In our book Evolutionaries we study the people who lead transformational change. And no industry in America needs these Evolutionary leaders more right now than our struggling auto manufacturers. In a bold move this month Ford announced they are ending production on the Lincoln Town Car and transforming the Lincoln brand. To lead the effort they have hired Jim Farley, the executive that revitalized troubled brands like Burberry, Gucci and Audi.
Like a true Evolutionary, Farley approached innovating the Lincoln in a wholly transformative fashion – no “updating”, “face-lift” or “re-vamp” would do. Everything needed to change. “We have innovated literally every piece of this,” says Farley. The new Lincoln line will be backed by a new ad agency, new brand, and its own independent design studio.
The Lincoln brand experienced great popularity in the 1950’s and early 1960’s when celebrities like Frank Sinatra brought a sense of glitz and sophistication to the classic American car. But even given the recent and unexplained appearance by Mark Zuckerberg in an immaculate early model Continental, the brand has been in decline for decades.
Transforming the Lincoln brand is about more than boosting Ford’s auto sales. The sleek new MKZ in the photo above offers more than just a retractable roof, it symbolizes the daunting task of reinvention facing the American auto industry. It’s a sign of hope.
And that’s the real power of the Evolutionary leader – to drive the kind of transformational change that lifts us out of this Great Recession and places American manufacturing back in the center of innovative excellence. We thank Evolutionaries like Jim Farley for playing at the edges – where the game can really be changed. And, even more courageous than being an Evolutionary might be the act of hiring an Evolutionary. These folks tend to drive people crazy, pushing out to the edge of what is possible and testing new paths. In short, they will turn your world upside down. Making the decision to hire an Evolutionary is a huge step for Ford.
Evolutionary Innovators like Farley are willing to take leaps of faith and it is just those decisions that make history. There is a time and place in great rock climbing where you have to let go of your hand and footholds at the same time to get to the next place. It’s called the “dynamic move” and it is so dramatic that it feels crazy. But it is the only way to move forward and make progress. You don’t actually have to take the risk – but it is the only way you can get to the top.
Kudos to Ford and to Farley for making the big bet. We wish you luck!