(Adds first name of Ford CEO in paragraph 2)
DETROIT, May 22 (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co's new chief executive officer transformed office furniture maker Steelcase Inc into a global leader, but in Michigan, he may be more revered as the man who turned around a troubled college football program.
Ford Executive Chairman William Clay Ford Jr., whose family owns the Detroit Lions football team, pointed to James Hackett's accomplishments as the University of Michigan's interim athletic director in 2015 while a Ford board member.
"When they asked him to come fix the athletic department, he said, 'Sure, I'd be happy to,'" Ford said at a news conference on Monday. "He then hired Jim Harbaugh (as head football coach) and left the department in much better shape than he found it."
Hackett, an Ohio native who played football at U-M under legendary coach Bo Schembechler, has run Ford Smart Mobility, a new unit established to oversee and coordinate the company's forays in autonomous driving, ridesharing and other ventures, since March 2016.
Before that, as CEO of Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Steelcase from 1994 to 2014, Hackett slashed thousands of jobs. He also began to reinvigorate and refocus the company on innovation, spearheaded by his 1996 purchase of renowned Silicon Valley design firm IDEO.
Inspired by IDEO's open-space designs, Hackett and Steelcase "reinvented the workplace, starting in Silicon Valley, and redesigned America's offices," said Marc Weiser, managing director of RPM Ventures, a venture capital firm based in Ann Arbor and San Francisco.
Hackett joined Ford's board in 2013, ahead of his retirement from Steelcase.
As chairman of Smart Mobility, he has helped oversee Ford's acquisition of San Francisco ride sharing startup Chariot and its $1 billion investment in Argo AI, a self-driving startup focused on robotics and artificial intelligence.
Bill Ford said Hackett, who reports to him, "has been a catalyst for innovation" at the automaker. The new CEO will help "unlock the full potential of our people and our business" as the company attempts to transform itself into a broad-based provider of transportation services.
Hackett's promotion to CEO and president "is not about making factories more efficient or cutting workers," said Weiser.
Instead, he said, Hackett will change the way people think of Ford. "It's about changing hearts and minds." (Reporting by Paul Lienert, Alana Wise and Joe White in Detroit; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)