Sure, startups have cool, kooky offices. Everyone loves visiting the Googleplex, which feels like you’re on a different planet. But I’ve always had a soft spot for the corporate campuses of the big 20th-century industrial giants. Once years ago I had the chance to interview Lou Gerstner at IBM’s headquarters in Armonk, N.Y. It was like going to meet Superman in the Fortress of Solitude. Everything about the place was meant to convey power.
Last week I visited the Ford campus in Dearborn, Michigan. (I wrote a different piece about it here on LinkedIn.) That’s the main executive headquarters building up above. There’s something massive and stoic and serious about it: Here is a place where adults do important things. No slides, no bouncy castles.
This may be changing, alas. Ford has announced plans to build an entirely new corporate campus, consolidating 30,000 people from 70 buildings into two main campuses. They’re going to demolish a bunch of old buildings — not sure if the one above will get bulldozed — and build something that looks like a tech company campus.
Last week I spent two days at Ford, for the “Further with Ford” event, where they talked about disruption and embracing new technologies. They’re really transforming the company. The new campus is kind of a metaphor for what’s happening to Ford itself. In 10 years this will be a very different business.
Here’s a thing called Carr-E, a personal mobility device, sort of a cross between a hoverboard and a Segway. Ford engineers in Germany designed it as a potential “last mile” transportation device in cities. It goes 11 miles per hour and can carry heavy packages. There’s also a tethering mode that lets it follow you around like a pet. So you could pop your stuff onto it and have it roll behind you to your car, or to the store. There’s video of me trying to ride this thing. I’ll see if I can upload it.
Here is Ford’s self-driving car. They vow to have these in production and on the road by 2021. I went for a ride in this and all I could think was, I want this car, right now.