Henry Ford III Seeks ‘External Viewpoints’ To Help Ford’s Board

The Ford scion is leaving his corporate post to help the board better govern. For other directors seeking to improve their boards, some concrete steps.

How far would you go to improve your performance as a board member?

Henry Ford III, great-great grandson of Ford Motor Co. founder Henry Ford, has announced that he is leaving his investor relations position at the automaker to broaden his perspective outside the company in an effort to be a more valuable member of its board of directors. Henry Ford III’s willingness and foresight to better himself in order to adequately prepare to tackle the growing challenges and responsibilities that corporate boards face today is noteworthy. As the nation continues to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, perhaps all directors should be asking themselves how they can improve their performance as a corporate board member and what steps they can take to do just that.

Henry Ford III, who was elected to the Ford board of directors in May, has worked at the company for 15 years, most recently in investor relations. News reports say the 41 year-old will be stepping away from that position and will now earn the $315,000 in compensation that Ford’s non-employee board members are paid. Perhaps he wants shareholders to know that he intends to bring the greatest level of value to the board during his service.

“After 15 years inside Ford, I believe that new external viewpoints will help me guide and support our great company with improved objectivity and an increased ability to constructively critique our strengths and weaknesses,” he told the Detroit Free Press in an email.

While it’s not discussed very often, finding a role that makes a significant contribution to the board can sometimes be challenging for newly appointed corporate directors. Ford appears to understand that it’s critical for new directors to expand the capabilities of the board, particularly at a time when regulations and shareholder interactions have changed significantly. He has offered to serve as a check on complacency for the company by bringing back outside information and perspectives that can better inform their strategic planning. Other directors will likely be interested in what he presents to the board and if he delivers key data, he will set himself up as a key voice in that boardroom for years to come.

It is important to note that the future of a company depends, in large part, on the ability of its board of directors to be adaptable in crisis situations and to show the ability to develop effective business strategies to deal with issues the company will need to address in the future. It would be a good idea for every board member to self-assess their contribution to their board and determine how they can better themselves to support their company’s future growth. Some ways new directors can improve their contribution to the board can be found here, but all directors that want to improve their boards can look within themselves and address the following:

Can you provide information about something that your board doesn’t currently have?

Henry Ford III apparently feels his company needs some outside voices to help determine where the company’s strengths and weaknesses are. He’s stepped up and volunteered to gather feedback and gain perspective from outside sources, and then contribute that insight to the board.

Perhaps all directors could consider what their boards are missing and then determine what they can contribute to fill those gaps. Alerting board members of new information sources that can make their jobs easier or suggesting using a solution to a problem that a competitor had success with are small actions that could yield big results.

Can advancements within your area of expertise affect your company?

Paying attention to advancements in technology, ideology and market dynamics can help define the future strategic business model of any company. All board members should consider whether it would be helpful to consult additional sources within their area of expertise in order to prepare their company for unexpected industry shifts. Being aware so that you can alert your board of radical changes regarding customers or competitors in a specific area can be critical.

Can you add diversity of thought to strategic challenges the board is facing in ways the board will accept?

Is there a perspective you can bring to boardroom conversations that is being neglected? If there is truly another approach to a difficult problem or another solution that might lead to better company performance, find a way to make it known without disrupting smooth operation of board meetings. Many times, how information is brought to the board’s attention is just as important as the impact of the information. Ford made it clear to board members what he was going to do and got buy-in regarding his going outside the company for information that could help. The entire board must believe your contributions are helpful—whether you believe they are or not.