Up Close & Personal With Brian Wolfe - Right Man For The Job - Brian Wolfe Interview
For Former Mustang Drag Racer Brian Wolfe, Doing The Right Things At The Right Places At The Right Times Led Him To His New Pos
MM: You were racing and serving as a test-bed for Ford Motorsport, but at the same time you were climbing the corporate ladder at Ford. What jobs have you held during your career at Ford?
Wolfe: I've been very fortunate. A lot of it is right place, right time. A lot of people plan their careers - where they're going and what they're going to do - but for me I loved engines and I really wanted to get to where I could do engine development. So I started at Heavy Truck as a Ford College Graduate in 1982. It was the only place hiring, but I had a wonderful time there and really learned a lot from some great people. About two years later, I was lucky enough to come to Engine Engineering. As a fuel system engineer, I worked on fuel injectors, regulators, throttle bodies, fuel rails, and those types of components. And I was meeting all these great guys like Wally Beeber, Hank Dertian, and a lot of the guys who did the development work on the 5.0-liter Mustangs in the 1980s.
A guy named Jim Clark was a department manager who went to Advanced Powertrain to bring back this new engine called the modular 4.6. So I said, "Here's my chance!" I knew Jim went for coffee every morning in the drafting room. So I waited there, watched him get his coffee, and followed him back to his office. I told him that I knew he was bringing in this engine and I really wanted to work on the development. So he gave me a chance to work for him, even though there were older and more experienced engineers available. I did that type of work for about 10 years, either as an engineer or a supervisor. I worked on the 4.6 2-valve, 4.6 4-valve, and the Durotech 2.5 and 3.0 V6s.
Then one day my boss called me into his office and said, "Everyone knows you're having way too much fun here so you're going to have to start working for a living like everyone else. We're going to put you in a little different role." That was engine systems engineer, which is a nice way to say program management, where the engine actually sits in the vehicle and achieves its attributes, whether that was fuel economy, NVH, emissions, or performance. I worked on the Durotech 3.0 which was going into the Taurus, and I went from there into Advanced Powertrain where I worked on the Aston Martin V-12, the 3-valve combustion system, and a few other neat projects. I worked there about 2 1/2 to 3 years and then I went to Europe as a chief engineer for Inline Gas Engines. I worked in Europe for three years then came back for the job I had right before this job, which was basically powertrain as installed with responsibility for the engine control system.
In a meeting with the vice-president of powertrains, I was asked about my career, my desires, and where I wanted to go. I said, "You know, if Dan Davis ever retires, I'd love to get the opportunity to do that job." And that's how I ended up here.
MM: Sounds like two things prepared you for your current job as Director of Ford Racing - racing and management at Ford. Plus your work with engines. Did all that tie together to help you with your current job?
Wolfe: It really did. The accountability here is pretty large, having the entire motorsports for North America - NASCAR, NHRA, Performance Parts business, and all the other ancillary racing, such as NMRA. We're trying to get more involved in local circle track racing.
There are a couple of things that are important. One, I think it's important to understand how Ford Motor Company works on the engineering side so when you're working with racing teams you understand what they do and you respect what they do so when you need help you know who to go to and how to ask for it. And two, for someone who has loved motorsports their whole life, it allowed the chance to say, if we're going to use motorsports to improve corporate image and help draw people into Ford products, what would appeal to me? So when I'm in the meetings I can make sure I'm looking at it from a customer perspective.