At the Finish Line
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
January 1, 2019
The new year will find Neil Schloss on a beach in Florida not in the glass house in Dearborn. Schloss, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Ford Smart Mobility, a subsidiary of the Ford Motor Co. dedicated to providing specialized mobility products and services, officially retired Dec. 31 after a 36-year career with the automaker.
In addition to being the founding CFO for Ford’s mobility efforts, Schloss served as the company’s treasurer during the Great Recession (December 2007-June 2009) and played a lead role in allowing Ford to weather the financial crisis without a government bailout like crosstown rivals GM and Chrysler Fiat.
In 2006, prior to the recession, he helped Ford secure $23 billion in financing that gave the company crucial liquidity when the downturn hit. In 2009, Schloss then led a creative debt buy-back plan that cleared $10.5 billion off Ford’s books for $3.5 billion in cash and equity.
“I believe Ford saw earlier [than other automakers] what might happen and recognized the need for more liquidity,” Schloss said. He calls those years between 2006-09 the highlight of his career — and the most challenging.
“The liquidity allowed Ford to keep funding new product,” he said. “The key to our success coming out of the Great Recession was having a portfolio of new products to sell.”
On Being a Jew at Ford
Schloss and his wife, Terry, have two daughters. One is a lawyer in Washington, D.C.; the other is a student at the University of Binghamton in New York. The Schlosses are longtime members of Ohel Moed of Shomrey Emunah, a small Orthodox synagogue in West Bloomfield.
Schloss, who grew up as a Conservative Jew in San Diego, California, became observant 24 years ago. “I became religious and my career took off. Is there a connection? I don’t know,” he said with a smile in a video for Jew in the City, an organization that works to break down stereotypes about Orthodox Judaism, that named him an “All-Star” in 2017.
“I think spirituality, being observant, being accepting of constraints gives you a balance. It gives you a sense of grounding,” he said. “I need that balance from the standpoint of putting it all together and making sense of things.”
Schloss said Ford is a great place to work for an observant Jew. “I went from being Conservative to being observant and went from working 24/7 to 24/6 with no problem. My colleagues would look at their watch at 3:30 on a Friday in the winter and say, ‘Don’t you need to leave?’
“If I were traveling and my colleagues returned home on Saturday, I would stick around until Sunday morning and it was never an issue,” he added.
“Ford prides itself on diversity and acceptance of everyone’s faith and religious beliefs.
In my 36 years, I’ve never felt any anti-Semitism here.”
A Changing Industry
The automotive industry is changing in many different ways, according to Schloss.
“Technology plays a pretty significant role in not only changing the way people drive, but also what they will drive,” he said. “Battery electric vehicles will become a bigger piece of the pie. Safety features will become increasingly important as will connected vehicles. Connected vehicles are critical because they not only allow the communication to and from the vehicle to provide drivers with services, but they also provide cities with information about what drivers are doing within their limits.”
Technology is going to play a role in what the future looks like, he added.
“When it comes to autonomous vehicles, the technology will be there long before the ability to actually use them in a significant way,” he said. “It will take some time for consumers to accept them and for the regulators to determine the rules around how they can be operated.”
It’s not just vehicles that will be changing but mobility itself, Schloss said.
“Ten years ago, Uber didn’t exist and look at what it does today. You’ve got bikes and scooters, especially in cities like New York, Miami and Chicago. These other forms of transportation become part of a transportation ecosystem. In the future, cars will clearly play a significant role, but so will other forms of transportation from walking to autonomous vehicles.
“The industry is evolving. Vehicles are going to become much more integrated into how we live our lives.”
A Lasting Legacy
Schloss doesn’t consider himself to be a “car guy.” He’s never worked in an auto plant, tinkered under the hood or participated in a vehicle product program.
However, he has lived and breathed the auto industry from the inside and knows how it fits within the broader manufacturing ecosystem and economy. He was one of the first hires at Ford Mobility and was able to help shape its direction. But mainly, he believes he will be remembered for ushering Ford through the financial crisis of 2009 without government help and ensuring its financial future.
He said he’s not going to miss being around the cars. “What I am going to miss is the people.”
There will be no fanfare when Schloss leaves Ford headquarters for the last time. “Maybe some cake and coffee in the conference room,” he said. “I’ll say good-bye my own way to the individuals I’m leaving behind … but I plan on staying in contact with many.”
He said he and Terry will keep a home base in Michigan, but he’d prefer to limit his time in the Mitten State during the winter. He’ll be able to pass the cold months visiting his mom in San Diego or at his other homes in Miami and Jerusalem. Between the three, he can chase the sun and avoid the snow.
But at 59, Schloss says he is “way too young” to stop work entirely. He plans to set up an LLC and do a combination of board work, advisory and consulting work. His first post-Ford opportunity is as an independent director on the board of Karamba Security, an Israeli provider of end-to-end automotive cybersecurity prevention solutions. He also plans to continue his work on the board of Kids Kicking Cancer, a nonprofit dear to his heart.
“I plan to stay active and keep looking forward,” Schloss said.