As president of Lincoln Motor Company and chief marketing officer of Ford, Joy Falotico is blazing a trail where few women have gone before
By Leena Rao
Photography by Erin Kirkland
It was 1989, and Joy Falotico, then a senior at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, was trying to find a job in the middle of a recession.
The job postings on the notice board outside the career counselor’s office were sparse, but Falotico, a business major who knew she wanted to work for a global corporation, applied for openings at Ford Motor Company and General Electric.
She ended up receiving offers from both. The GE role was more senior, and the Ford position was an entry-level job in customer service. The decision may have seemed obvious, except for one thing: Falotico loved the people she interviewed with at Ford. She took the job, and over the next three decades climbed from customer service agent to the company’s chief marketing officer, a role she’s held since 2018.
“I’ve had a lifetime of careers all in one company,” says Falotico, 52, who also became the president of Lincoln Motor Company (Ford’s luxury line of cars) in 2018. Her rise is especially impressive given the car industry’s male-dominated ranks: When it comes to executives of global auto brands, she’s one of few females at the top. Under her reign, Lincoln saw sales jump more than 8% in 2019.
Falotico, who lives in Northville with her husband and two teenage daughters, has made climbing the corporate ladder look easy. After her initial job in customer service, she landed at Ford Motor Credit Company, eventually becoming the division’s CEO. The job is where her marketing know-how and business acumen came together, as spurred by a piece of advice from one of her managers at the time. “He told me, ‘Start thinking two levels above you,’” she recalls. “What he was saying was look at what your boss is doing, and what your boss’s boss is doing, and start watching [that] all while making sure your own work is done.”
The turning point for Falotico’s future at Ford happened far outside of the company’s Dearborn headquarters. In 2006, she moved her family to London, where she led operations for Ford Credit Europe. She oversaw 21 countries and learned how to work across cultures, which she says was equally important. She recalls visiting the Spain office and repeatedly being asked to dinner by employees. She felt bad taking away from their precious family time, so she would politely decline the invitations. Finally, after a few trips, one employee told her they wanted to have dinner with her because that’s how they build relationships, and that social interactions were as important as corporate ones. “I thought I was doing them a favor, and what I was really doing was depriving them of something that was really important to them,” she says.
Falotico’s self-awareness has also been a reason behind her career ascent. When she became the CEO of Ford Credit in 2016, she took on the responsibility of managing crucial relationships with investors and credit agencies. “Joy’s superpower is [her] real desire to learn and listen,” says Marion Harris, the current CEO and president of Ford Credit. He recalled one of the first meetings she had as CEO with the credit agencies. “She was the CEO but she listened, took notes and asked questions,” he says.
Still, like many women in male-dominated industries, Falotico has faced challenges. “I used to feel really different being a woman,” she says. “I didn’t know how to name it, but now I realize there was unconscious bias.” Falotico recalls that many times over the course of her career, male colleagues made comments about her being too young, even though she was the same age as them. “It’s hard when you are finally brought to the big table, but you are the only female there,” she says. “It’s intimidating.”
Over the past three years, Falotico has begun to share these experiences more widely, as she went through unconscious bias training at Ford. (The training is part of a slate of initiatives the company has launched in recent years to support inclusivity.) She routinely attends “Women at Ford,” a women’s group with thousands of participants, even divulging what she calls her own periodic “crises of confidence,” she says. “People say, ‘Oh, you could have it all,’ and the answer is you can, but not all at the same time.”
Falotico’s ability to navigate professional and personal responsibilities has been an inspiration to the working moms around her, says Michelle Puccio, a director of human resources at Ford. Puccio recounts the time she needed to leave a meeting to pick up her children in dangerous road conditions during a snowstorm. Falotico rescheduled the meeting and texted Puccio later to make sure she was safe. “Joy has taught me so much about becoming the best mother and Ford employee while still maintaining a sense of self,” says Puccio.
Today, sitting in a glass-walled conference room at Ford’s headquarters, Falotico’s eyes shine when she talks about the company that has become her second home, the employees who have become her second “family,” and the job that has become her passion. “The work is hard and there’s more disruption in it than ever,” she says. Still, the challenge inspires her. “I always think, in every role I go into, ‘How do I transform a business and leave it in a better place than when I started?’”