Alumni Perspective – Mark Fields, MBA '89

Mark Fields is Executive Vice President, Ford Motor Company, and President of the business in North and South America. In this role he has been affecting change in all Ford’s manufacturing, marketing and development operations since October 2005. Prior to this role, Fields served as executive vice president, Ford of Europe and Premier Automotive Group; as president and CEO of Ford’s partner Mazda Motor Company; and was among the first graduates of Ford’s Marketing Leadership Program.

A 1989 MBA graduate of Harvard Business School, Fields has been named a Global Leader of Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum (2000) and CNBC’s Asian Business Leader-Innovator of the Year (2001).

Most memorable experience as a student at HBS:
When Mark Fields attended HBS, he wanted to get group work experience and so chose five students to team with on a second year field study. The group’s project was to analyze acquisition strategy at a German consumer products company and per Fields, it was a “great experience because of the mix of skills” among the students.

The field study also served as Fields’ introduction to international business. The team reviewed potential acquisitions across the US and traveled Europe to understand how the company could best manage its existing acquisitions on the continent. The cross-cultural work served as the foundation for global assignments later in his career.

Inflential Activities:
Mark Fields vividly remembers his first year Marketing class and professor, Tom Bonoma. With pre-business school experience in IBM’s sales and marketing group, Fields was familiar with marketing concepts, yet the course was the “first real class where we really talked about the science of marketing.”

Professor Bonoma brought real life examples into the classroom and supplemented his own knowledge with that of protagonists. For Fields, the opportunity to see the players involved and to watch marketing come alive ignited a passion for marketing that affects his work at Ford today.

The experience and the relationships formed through the school:
As an executive at Ford Motor Company, Fields manages complex situations with multiple stakeholders regularly, like balancing the interests of the union, dealers, customers, employees and shareholders. His MBA experience prepared him for the challenge: “At HBS, they throw so much at you, particularly in the first year,” Fields said. “You have to identify what are the critical issues and be able to prioritize what is important, what is not.”

Advice for current students at HBS today:
(1) “Always be true to yourself,” and “don’t always go with the flow.” For Fields, his post-MBA job decision was a good example of striking his own course. With most classmates headed for consulting and investment banking, he took a chance on Ford, entering the domestic automotive industry when it was in a downward spiral in 1989. “People thought I was crazy to go to Ford.” Yet today, Fields is one of the few 1989 graduates to remain with his first post-HBS employer and is proud of the challenges and opportunities he faces as a top executive at Ford.

(2) “Always remember to be humble. To lead today is very different than 15-20 years ago,” Fields notes. He sees today’s manager as being someone who collaborates, someone who people want to follow and challenges aspiring leaders to build the people skills required today.

(3) For Fields, who “always tended to go to the assignments that were not very popular, not sexy,” another piece of advice is to step outside one’s comfort zone and find places to grow professionally and “contribute to the business in a meaningful way.”

In his career, two challenges demonstrate this principle of taking a chance and attempt to make an outsized impact. First, Fields worked on the Commercial Truck Vehicle Center’s Super Duty truck in 1994 when the project was “viewed as backwater” among the vehicle groups. Super Duty later became one of Ford’s showcase products and earned Fields credibility within the organization.

Second, Fields consistently sought challenging international assignments. When others were apprehensive about American automakers’ prospects in South America, Fields volunteered to serve as Managing Director of Ford Argentina. Next, when Ford’s Mazda partnership was at risk and bleeding cash, Mark Fields took the President and CEO role at Mazda Motor Company as a young, 38 year old American. In Japan, he would overcome language, economic and cultural barriers to lead a surprisingly positive turnaround at Mazda.

Both the international assignments and the Super Duty work are the top achievements that got Fields noticed by Ford’s leadership as a young phenom ready for executive leadership much earlier than his peers.

Defining Success:
For Fields, success comes in three categories with personal success always coming first before achievements in business.
First, Fields counts his family as the crowning success in life: “19 years married, two great kids.”

The second category of success also focuses on others-it is in “allowing an organization to achieve more than it thinks it can ever do,” and is marked when the “organization does well, and potentially better, after I leave.”
Third, Fields wants people to enjoy working for him. “When people are asked if they would work for me again,” I have succeeded if “they say enthusiastically yes!”

April 7, 2008
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