When Spotify first approached Jim Farley with the idea of hosting a podcast, he gave it a cool reception.
The pitch: Farley, Ford Motor Co.’s chief executive, could interview his peers about leadership. He could record it on Saturdays, it was suggested. “My initial reaction was I have absolutely no interest in spending my Saturdays interviewing business leaders about leadership,” he told The Times.
With a little show business in his blood — his cousin was the late “Saturday Night Live” star Chris Farley — he thought he could come up with something a little livelier.
His counteroffer: What if we made it about cars — people’s first cars, their relationship with cars — with a little leadership thrown in?
Spotify said cool.
With the launch of his star-studded interview series, “Drive,” which premieres May 25, Farley goes into show biz himself. Among his guests: Jimmy Kimmel, Dax Shepard and Tom Brady.
Combining car love with leadership and success wasn’t as hard as he thought it might be. In the episode with Tom Brady, Farley said, the pro football megastar said he most admires “those who put the success of the enterprise ahead of themselves and focus on delivering.”
That’s corporate speak, but Brady put some real world into it: “He told me if you look at the parking lots of the NFL teams, you’ll see that the most reliable players don’t have Ferraris and Lamborghinis. They drive normal cars.”
Farley, 59, did worry that pulling off his role as entertaining interviewer would be hard.
Back in the day, he’d accompany his cousin to appearances on “The Tonight Show.” “I was there to make sure Chris didn’t do something stupid,” he said. He still hangs with Chris’ family, including comedian brothers Kevin and John.
“I’m the least funny person in the family,” he said. “I’m the boring business guy.”
But everything’s relative. A preview of the interview with Shepard has Farley holding his own in a riff about riding in the back of the family station wagon as a child.
“I would put cardboard up and I was like 10 or 11 and I would start flipping off drivers who were passing us and then they would flip off my mom,” he said. “And I like did that for three years, she had no idea.”
Elsewhere in the interview, the two bond over their love of roaring high-horsepower internal combustion engines (Farley’s childhood nickname was Jimmy Car Car), dive into Shepard’s guilt in the age of global warming, and unpack his concern that electric cars won’t offer the same “visceral experience.” “I know I need to embrace it,” he said.
“We need to put Detroit swagger in our electric cars,” Farley said.
In his day job, Ford has been attempting to do just that. After a stint at Lexus and Toyota, Farley joined Ford in 2007, and in 2020 succeeded Jim Hackett as the CEO. He’s on a mission to position Ford as an electric car leader and was the force behind the electric Mustang Mach-E and the brand new Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck.
Once he agreed to go into podcasting, Farley signed up with a creative consultant company, Magnificent Noise.
“Our call to action was to stop Jim from trying to be a podcaster and be just Jim,” said Magnificent Noise co-founder Eric Nuzum.
Once he made that transition, he was on his way to prime time, said fellow co-founder Jesse Baker. “When your cousin is Chris Farley, it’s hard to be the funny one,” she said. “But Jim is a storyteller. He has a wicked sense of humor.”
The eight-part podcast series also includes interviews with the not-as-well-known: Jochen Zeitz, CEO of Harley-Davidson; actress and race car driver Emelia Hartford; Patrice Banks, founder of the Girls Auto Clinic; and motorsports impresario the Duke of Richmond, Charles Gordon-Lennox.