Joe Hinrichs' rise at Ford has been as quick as it has been impressive. Having worked a decade for General Motors, and several years at a manufacturing investment firm, he first came to the attention of Automotive Logistics in 2002, when he took over as Ford’s executive director for material planning and logistics. He would only be there a year, however, before speeding on to roles including CEO of Ford Motor Company of Canada and group vice president of global manufacturing and labour affairs.
He took over his current role at the end of last year, moving to Shanghai with his wife and three children. At 42, his success has not meant he’s outgrown his roots in small town American life, and spending time with his family remains his favourite pastime.
Automotive Logistics: Where did you grow up and what do you miss most about it?
Joe Hinrichs: I grew up in the small town of Fostoria, Ohio. The population was around 16,000 people then and my high school graduation class had 52 students. Sometimes I miss the calmness and simplicity of a small town.
AL: Throughout your quick rise in the industry, you have been based in various different cities and countries. What has been your favourite thus far and why?
JH: We really have enjoyed everywhere we’ve been. My wife has been everywhere with me right from the time we got married shortly after college: Chicago, Boston, northern Virginia, Toronto, Dayton, Ft. Wayne, just outside Louisville, and now Shanghai. Lots of great memories.
AL: When were you first attracted to work in the automotive industry?
JH: I actually was one of four students nominated by the University of Dayton to be considered for a scholarship General Motors was sponsoring for an Electrical Engineering student. I was awarded the scholarship, named a GM Scholar, and then offered the opportunity to work for GM the summers after my sophomore and junior years in college. That started it all.
AL: Given the recent troubles of the sector, if you were again a graduate or entrepreneur just starting out, would you follow the same path? Why or why not?
JH: I would definitely do it all over again. Remember, I left for two years in private equity and then came back! It’s one of the most important industries across the globe. While it’s been a tumultuous ride the last few years in the US, it’s been an exhilarating ride in other parts of the world, such as China and other parts of Asia. It really is exciting to work on great cars and trucks that people love. You never have to explain to people what your company does.
AL: Now that you’re leading such an important growth region, what would you say is the company’s primary challenge here?
JH: The opportunity we have to support rapid growth in the Asia Pacific region is to continue to execute the ‘One Ford’ plan across the globe. As we develop and launch all these great global products, we’ll be able to offer more and more of them to the consumers here. When Ford focuses its resources around the world, great things happen. We are definitely focused on growth in Asia Pacific. We need more products, more dealers, and more manufacturing plants. I think you get the picture.
AL: As you’ve previously led Ford’s global manufacturing and logistics, how would you compare production and supply chain management for Ford in Asia to other regions in terms of drivers such flexibility, efficiency and cost?
JH: The Asia Pacific and Africa region has a lot of complexity: ten time zones, multiple trade agreements, government policies, duties, etc. With our many Ford manufacturing sites and supplier sites in many different countries, the challenge of keeping the whole supply chain linked together is an immense one. We have a great team that holds it all together.
AL: Has the ‘great recession’ changed anything about your approach to life or work?
JH: I never spent what I didn’t have before and I won’t in the future either. Hopefully other countries and individuals have learned that lesson. In business, it’s all about positive cash flow.
AL: What is your favourite author or book right now?
JH: I read a lot of books on leadership, which is by far my favourite subject. One of my favourites is ‘First, Break All the Rules’ by Marcus Buckingham. I’m also reading several books on China and India. I just finished reading ‘Superfusion’ by Zachary Karabell.
AL: What kind of music do you enjoy listening to?
JH: I listen to almost everything from classical to country to pop to rock, from Kenny Chesney to Mozart, Kid Rock to Lady Gaga. My iTouch has around 3,000 songs on it and I listen to it almost every day.
AL: If you had to be stuck with somebody in an airport that has been closed by volcanic eruptions, who would it be?
JH: Jesus Christ.
AL: Finally, what would you name as your top goal at Ford in 2010?
JH: Building a team and planning to deliver dramatic profitable growth for Ford in Asia Pacific and Africa over the next 3-5 years.