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Jeff Furst, '95

Arnold W. Donald, '80

Jim Yost, '74

Jim Yost, '74

Jim Yost, '74
Ford's Highway to High Tech

As Ford Motor Company's vice president of corporate strategy, Jim Yost, '74, works with the company's 51 other top executives to formulate company agendas, align management with company goals, develop business plans, and assess global competition. The hitch is that he's trying to do all this with as little paper as possible.

Yost assumed his position just as Ford mounted a push toward paperless meetings among its top brass. Discussions now are conducted without any printed support materials. Prior to meetings, background information is conveyed to executives via electronic means, mostly e-mail, said Yost. During meetings, presentations are projected onto a screen.

As the company's former vice president and chief information officer, Yost welcomed this change. "We'll cut down on paper, but the point is we're speeding information to people," said Yost. "As we become more and more viable in 'e-nabling,' it will affect everything we do."

In his 27 years with Ford, Yost has held numerous positions, starting out in finance, then moving on to product development, marketing, sales, truck operations, manufacturing, overseas operations, and information technology systems and practices. Each of these experiences prepared Yost for his current role, but his drive to improve operations using information technology has consistently shaped his careerčand Ford Motor Company.

"My whole career has always been with IT, with computer systems. I've always tried to use them to get my job done and to solve problems," said the 52-year-old.

In the early '90s, as the corporate comptroller in a joint manufacturing venture between Ford and Volkswagen Motors, Yost utilized information technology to solve internal and customer service problems at the Brazil operation. "I spent a lot of time with our chief information officer and used my expertise to help him out," he said.

Then, in the mid-'90s, Yost applied his technological expertise to Ford of Europe. At that time, the company's operation in England supplied 19 countries, each with different currencies and varying automobile tastes. Just as Yost came aboard as director of finance, a recession in Europe cut sales by 16 percent. He eventually became chief financial officer of the $25 billion operation and convinced management to adapt information technology solutions to improve financial reporting and general operations.

"I've always enjoyed IT because it's a structural approach to problem solving," said Yost. "You have to think rationally and logically, yet it can be creative."

Last year, information technology was used to identify a pattern of failure among Firestone tires in Ford vehicles. It also was implemented to bring about a recall and to notify customers, said Yost, who has been influential in Ford's use of the Internet to enhance customer service. Customers now may surf the Internet for the best Ford prices and even obtain financing online.

"Technology is totally pervasive" at Ford, according to Yost. "It is used to the greatest possible extent to obtain customer satisfaction and shareholder value."

The company's internal operations also were streamlined with IT, which bodes well for consumers, whether in cost savings or reinvestment, said Yost. Ford orders materials, supplies, and parts via the Internet, speeding transactions and cutting fees for purchase orders. Employee communication also has been enhanced. For a fee of $5 a month, Ford employees are provided with computers and may access the Internet at home.

"Eighty years ago, Ford was one of the world's largest 100 companies," Yost said. "It's one of the few of those companies still around, and it still is a leader in its industry."

There are several reasons for this, but one, in particular, stands out for Yost: "In the last decade, the company has moved away from a manufacturing push to a customer pull." And technology has played a large role in this shift.

Yost expects Ford's current customer orientation to present plenty of new challenges for the future. For instance, consumers want larger vehicles that conserve fuel and pollute less, he said. But Yost remains committed to confronting these and other tasks at Ford with technological skill and determination.--Susan DeGrane

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