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Brief Perspective on J Mays

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So the word comes from Ford this morning that J Mays will be retiring effective January 1, 2014. No longer the group vice president, Design, chief creative officer.


He will be followed by Moray Callum, who is been elected vice president of Design.

Both guys are good. Really good at what they do.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to have lunch with Mays, Callum, Martin Smith, Joel Piaskowski, Chris Svensson, and Stefan Lamm their counterparts from around the world, and a couple of my journalistic colleagues. The designers had been spending several days together in Dearborn, talking about the direction that the company’s products would be taking near- and far-term.

And as we sat in a room in the Product Development Center, we all had an enjoyable exchange. No one was writing anything down. No one was recording.

It was an interesting dynamic to be a small part of, as Mays and his associates exhibited a group dynamic of cheer and camaraderie that is typically absent from not merely groups of executives, but executives who all have creative backgrounds and foregrounds and strong points of view. They seemed to be enjoying what they were doing and one another’s company. Again, amazing for such a group of high-powered people. Mays has assembled one hell of a team.

“Point of view” is something that Mays has emphasized since he’s been at Ford for the last 16 years. And if you think about that term, it is generally related to narrative and perspective, both things that were always part of what Mays worked to bring to the design of the company’s vehicles.

And having a point of view means that sometimes one will be controversial. And Mays is that.

Back at the 2000 North American International Auto Show, Mays came out on stage at Cobo Arena with a concept car, the 24-7, a boxy object that was all about the intersection of transportation and connectivity, something that we all know today as “telematics.” Ford was working with Yahoo! and the 24-7, with its reconfigurable displays and advanced lighting technology, was a point of view about the future of cars.

Mays was generally excoriated by automotive enthusiasts for creating a car that was so un-carlike—at least in the context of then.

Earlier this year I talked with him about it, and he acknowledged that he was probably getting ahead of things with that car. Yet the rest of us have eventually arrived there.

Pretty damn good point of view then. And now.  He saw what most of us couldn’t.  Which is probably why he got the job that he has, and accolades that go far beyond the auto industry.

Mays will be missed—though I suspect that in some capacity, he’ll still be around.

All the best, J.

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