The National Magazine of the Successful American Latino: Jim Padilla

Jim Padilla – Driven to Succeed

Elsa Otero

Executive vice president of Ford Motor Company and President of Ford, North America, is a third-generation Mexican-American, whose favorite pastime, when work permits, is spending time with his grandchildren. To Padilla, being chosen this year as an honorary president of the 24th National Convention and Commercial Expo of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce means, “An opportunity to share and learn best practices in business.”

He took time off from his packed schedule when LATINO LEADERS caught up with him to share his thoughts with us on his family. Ford’s plans and the importance of Latinos to it.

Q. After 37 years of working for Ford, in November 2002 you became executive vice president, Ford Motor Company and president of Ford, North America. Were you the first Hispanic to achieve this level in the Ford Motor Company?

A. Yes. I think that it is the culmination of 37 years of hard work and proven performance in all facets of the business and on three continents.

Q. Seven months later, what are your principal Challenges?

A. This business is all about delivering great products and superior quality to our customers, and doing this with affordable products that provide great satisfaction. The business is all about people and relationships and motivating teams to excel.

Q. Where do you want to see Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln vehicle lines in the future?

A. Ford has an aggressive product plan that will include 65 new models over the next five years, That will allow us to maintain leadership ha trucks and SUVs and give us much stronger entries into the passenger car market. We will continue to be a full-line manufacturer offering exciting products that meet and exceed customer expectations.

Q. What was your main goal at the amp you joined Ford in 1966 as a quality control engineer?

A. I aspired to apply my engineering background in manufacturing, and to achieve a management position running operations. Circumstances have allowed me to exceed those initial goals. I have had 25 different jobs over 37 years. Nearly all of those positions came looking for me.

Q. Did you realize then that you had leader stamina?

A. I have always put heavy emphasis on positive elements of the job. In particular, the capabilities and contributions of our people have always been paramount in my approach to any task. It is our people who make the difference. It is our people who allow us to win the race.

Q. what characteristics of your personality would you attribute to your Hispanic culture and what role have these characteristics played in your career?

A. Growing up, I was one of 11 children. The principles of independence, hard work, and the need for education were fundamental in the Padilla household. Competition among my eight brothers and two sisters was keen, and I always strove to excel.

Q. Six years ago you were the president of Ford, South America. How would you compare and contrast this

A. The NA operations are more than 40 times larger than South America for Ford Motor Company. So, the scale of the business is dramatically different. However, there are similarities in terms of products, in terms of processes, and people. Many of the skills developed in the smaller markets are quite applicable in bigger markets. Certainly people skills and winning the hearts and minds of the workforce are critical to achieve results.

Q. What have been the greatest accomplishments of the Hispanics Network Group since its foundling by your uncle, Leocadia Padilla, in 1992?

A. The Ford Hispanic Network Group has grown ten-fold in the past four years, The HNG is deeply involved in the Latino community in Southwest Detroit. Our members provide mentoring to young students, visit homes for the elderly, and deliver food to the needy. This is a very giving organization. Last week, we did our annual clean up of Clark Park, in the old Mexican Town area of Detroit. The HNG also provides a vital link for Ford to Hispanic consumers. Additionally, our members recruit young Hispanics on college campuses, as well as provide mentoring to new Hispanic employees at Ford.

Q. What role do you play in supporting the Hispanic Network Group today?

A. My role as the Champion for the HNG is to participate in many of the activities and to help guide the leadership team. We meet monthly and discuss initiatives and plans. As their sponsor, my role is to provide encouragement, ideas, personal time, and budget relief, when necessary.

Q. What advice do you have for a young enabler who wants to grow in a company like Ford?

A. Don’t be afraid of tough assignments. These challenges will develop your skills much faster and allow you to demonstrate your capabilities. Develop your people skills, because no single individual is as effective or productive as an entire team. Recognize the skills of your peers and fellow team members, and seek to complement them in developing and implementing creative solutions.

Q. What did it mean to you to be named “Engineer of the Year” at the 2000 Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference?

A. I was very pleased and surprised to win the HENAAC award. I believe it is important to have role models. This award is not just a recognition-it is a responsibility.

Q. Who was your role modal growing up, and how has this role model influenced you most?

A. My father. He is very hard working, has good people and leadership skills, and spent a lot of time giving hack to the community.

Q. And finally, the hardest question of all. What’s your favorite car to drive?

A. My 2002, bright red, Thunderbird convertible.

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