Update: Nov. 23, 2020: Ford will have a technology vacancy to fill after its newly-named chief software and information officer did not rejoin the company, Ford announced Friday.
Vijay Sankaran was set to rejoin Ford on Nov. 16 in the new role, which would have marked his second stint at Ford following seven years at TD Ameritrade. Sankaran cited "personal reasons" for not rejoining Ford.
In his stead, CIO Jeff Lemmer will continue in his role through the rest of the year. Lemmer is set to retire on Jan. 1. Ford plans to name, in the near future, a permanent executive to lead technology, software and data.
Vijay Sankaran is joining Ford as chief software and information officer to modernize company operations and help deliver new customer services and experiences, the company announced Monday. Sankaran will join Ford on Nov. 16 and will report to Jim Farley, president and CEO of Ford.
Sankaran will take over executive technology leadership from CIO Jeff Lemmer, who is retiring Jan. 1. He will work with Hau Thai-Tang, chief product platform and operations officer, and those responsible for Ford's industrial platform.
This is Sankaran's second stint at Ford. After 12 years, he left Ford in 2013, vacating his former role as CTO of Ford IT. Leading Ford's Technology and Software Platform group, one of the goals is for Sankaran to generate additional revenue streams, according to the announcement.
Most recently, Sankaran was the CIO of TD Ameritrade, where he introduced agile software engineering, which doubled software throughput at the company, according to the announcement. He also introduced client-facing mobile applications and integrated AI for more client personalization.
Sankaran's focus returning to the company is at the intersection of software, data and AI. In particular, he highlighted data's ability to build brand loyalty and growth.
Ford is entering a new era, with a suite of leaders joining Farley, who took over as chief executive in October.
Sankaran's appointment highlights what Ford wants to become: a technology company built on a backbone of automobiles. That requires rethinking the role of data in the enterprise and architecting systems so information doesn't sit unused in silos.
The CIO becomes essential in that overhaul. They need to operate as technologists with business skills who can translate what's possible to the executive committee. The automotive industry is relying on technology to drive innovation and deliver on strategies outlined in the C-suite.
That means the CIO of the company's past will operate in a different way than the CIO of its future. Instead of operational efficiency, Ford's top technology executive will also need to shape and drive strategy from the top down.
Because of business acumen requirements, Ford didn't require a technology executive with industry familiarity. An outsider can offer fresh perspective on solving business problems.
In the case of Sankaran, it proves the best of both worlds: he understands Ford operations, but built business and strategic acumen in a financial services company, an industry that is readily adopting advanced technology, working around or modernizing legacy systems.