Thinking Out Loud: CIO Marv Adams

Marv Adams signed on as Ford’s CIO two years ago with a mission from CEO Bill Ford, the founder’s grandson, to help save the company from torrents of red ink and a failed Internet commerce strategy. Since then, Adams has begun to help Ford use IT to cut costs and redirect its information technology strategy. In a recent interview with CIO Insight Executive Editor Marcia Stepanek and Detroit auto writer Paul Eisenstein, Adams talked about his tenure, the history of IT in manufacturing and new collaboration technologies that Ford is using and helping to develop for the rest of corporate America. What follows is an edited transcript of Adams’ remarks.

What’s your background, how did you work up to this position?

I was the CIO at Bank One for four years, and I also ran a large processing business for Bank One that did credit card and debit processing for not only Bank One but for a variety of financial institutions around the United States. So I did that for about two and a half years. I ran engineering systems, was vice president of the worldwide engineering systems division at Xerox, and then I had 10 years with IBM starting out as an electrical engineer.

I studied electrical engineering at Michigan State, and then went to work for IBM and did some computer design work, and then transferred to the field, becoming a systems engineer for IBM. I was assigned to the Ford account. I worked in Dearborn with Ford between mid-1985 and 1991, actually designing a lot of the infrastructure, some of which is still here.

You’ve watched Ford from the days when it didn’t have computers in the public relations offices and most offices, all the way through to the point where former Ford CEO Jac Nasser talked about Ford becoming an electronic company.

Yes, my first project at Ford when I was an IBM employee was to work with Ford to replace all of the fixed function terminals with a PC, a PC that could take on the personality of the various terminal types from the variety of systems that Ford had at the time—HP, DEC, Honeywell, various flavors of IBM, etc. We put in the personal computer on local area networks as a universal terminal at Ford. And that’s when it really started spreading throughout all of the different organizations across the company.

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