Ford Motor Company invited Asian reporters to its China research and development facility in Nanjing for a press opportunity around the time of the 2017 Chinese New Year.
Outside of a casual conversation with David Schoch, MBA ’78, president of Ford Asia Pacific and chairman of Ford China, the attending reporters were told to bring their spouses and children and enjoy a litany of holiday-themed events on January 28.
That’s when Schoch saw a young boy off to the side, who had strayed from the other children in the room and set out to play by himself. The boy told Schoch of his affinity for trucks, at which point Schoch passed the boy a handheld display model of Ford’s latest F-150. The boy’s smile began to gleam as brightly as the gloss on his new shiny blue toy truck.
“He was over the moon,” said Schoch. “Some of my colleagues told me later that he was playing with that truck for the rest of the afternoon. We made his day and maybe someday, he’ll be a Ford customer. Or even better—a Ford employee.”
That moment exemplified Schoch’s people-focused, relationship-driven leadership style with Ford Motor Company, for which he has served in varying capacities and across six continents for the last 39 years.
Schoch, who earned his MBA from Temple University’s Fox School of Business, oversees every aspect of operations at Ford Asia Pacific, one of the world’s rising markets for automotive purchases. In his role, the 65-year-old Schoch manages Ford’s strategic initiatives in that region of the world.
But above all else, Schoch said, he values his “people-development” opportunities.
“I am a big believer in helping young leaders think through their personal leadership journeys, to arrive at what they want to accomplish in their careers,” said Schoch, a native of Wayne, Pa. “I spend a good deal of time teaching and sharing experiences within leadership-training programs.
“Like that young boy I connected with, it gives me great satisfaction, as a leader, to relate to everybody with whom I interact.”
‘Every business needs someone like Dave’
Schoch’s career with Ford took off quickly after he earned his MBA with a concentration in Finance from the Fox School in 1978. He joined the Dearborn, Mich.-based company as a financial analyst with Ford’s Cleveland Engine manufacturing facility in Brook Park, Ohio.
From there, and following a number of domestic promotions, Schoch leapt at an opportunity to work overseas. He accepted an appointment as business planning manager of Ford Europe, a role he held from 1989-1993.
Schoch credits his wife, Carol, for the encouragement to pursue international business opportunities within the company.
“I had many offers coming out of Temple, but the reputation of Ford in finance stuck out to me,” Schoch said. “My wife said, ‘The writing is on the wall. Go for it.’ I did, and it’s been a great journey. She also was instrumental when we made the decision to relocate our family overseas, and that has been another wonderful part of our lives.
“What’s interesting to me is that there’s not a week that goes by that one of my three daughters doesn’t send me a note and say, ‘Hey Dad, you’ll never guess who I talked to from Brazil.’ Or they say South Africa. Or Germany. It sure has broadened their perspectives of the world, which is much different than when I compare it against myself at their ages.”
In addition to his position in Europe, Schoch returned to Ford Europe in 2004 as CFO, and in 2009 became CFO of the Americas.
Each step, he said, has proved integral to his professional and personal development. Schoch pointed specifically to his involvement with Ford’s commitment to social initiatives. In particular, he referenced a program initiated in 1997, while he was working within Ford’s South Africa division. The program sought to educate the company’s employees on the country’s HIV/AIDS pandemic, which affected three percent of the nation’s population in 1996, but had risen to 10 percent by 1999.
Initiated by Lewis Booth, one of Schoch’s colleagues from the plant, the educational program halted production in both of Ford’s South Africa plants for a day. Booth called upon a local theater company to demonstrate the disease’s impact on a family. The company then appointed peer educators and provided access to preventative measures like prophylactics. Still operating today, the program has received nationwide acclaim in South Africa, and earned the U.S. Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence in 2002. Booth and Schoch traveled to Washington, D.C., to accept the award.
“Every business needs someone like Dave, who you know always will speak up on difficult subjects,” said Booth, who retired in April 2012 as Ford’s executive vice president and global chief financial officer. “And no one ever doubted Dave’s motives. It was always about doing the right thing for the business, the company, the employee, or whatever other subject was under discussion.”
The HIV/AIDS educational program, Schoch said, “was the a-ha moment for me in how industry should look to give back and support the community.”
Another of Schoch’s initiatives in South Africa, Booth said, involved a local preschool attached to the Ford plant in Pretoria, one of the country’s capital cities. There, Schoch often met with students and teachers, and ensured the school would receive support from Ford in the form of donations and gifts.
Along the way, Schoch did not publicize his efforts. “He never told me he did this,” Booth said. “The school told me because it was important to them.”
‘If I can give back in a small way, I can make a big difference’
In recent years, the Asia Pacific region widely has been identified as a capacious area of middle-class growth. As a result, consumers have driven the automotive market while becoming first-time car owners. What some might view as a significant challenge, in having to meet the growing demand for vehicles in this region, Schoch believes it represents an area of significant opportunity.
Schoch speaks often of opportunity with regard to his professional heights and those of others.
On a Spring 2016 visit to Philadelphia, Schoch met with students from the Fox School’s Executive MBA program. He shared insights from his international business career, and provided a glimpse into the functions of Ford’s Asia Pacific operations. Best of all, according to Schoch, he interacted with students whose career aims reminded him of his own.
“If nothing else,” he said, “I was trying to capture their imagination of what they want to be, and further indicate that if you put your mind to it, and go for it, you can reach your aspirations. The follow-up emails and questions that the students sent afterward were quite rewarding to me.”
Schoch’s connection to Fox runs deep. He has made arrangements to meet with Fox Global MBA students in May 2017, led by the Fox School director of international programs Phyllis Tutora, on one of their international immersion trips through China.
A number of Schoch’s former colleagues referred to him as a “people person.” Kiersten Robinson, a 22-year Ford employee who serves the company as its executive director of human resources, used the term “quanxi.” It’s the Chinese word for an individual who values the importance of relationships.
“He does not push people to listen to him because he is the president,” said John Cheng, Ford Asia Pacific’s director of integration. “He shows genuine respect to all, no matter which level you are.”
With Schoch at the helm since 2011, Ford Asia Pacific has more than doubled its workforce and has employed a workforce culture “that has become a competitive advantage for us,” Robinson added.
“While Dave has a lot to be proud of, his greatest contribution has been in building a strong, talented, and confident team,” Robinson said. “Dave inspires others to go beyond what they thought they were capable of, and in doing so, he inspires a sense of loyalty and purpose I have not seen from other leaders.”
As part of his style, Schoch has made a habit of routinely encouraging members of his team. He sends individual welcome letters to every new employee who joins Ford in Asia Pacific, “and we have hundreds of new employees each year,” Robinson said. Schoch also writes personal thank you and congratulatory notes to acknowledge employee promotions or significant work accomplishments.
“What I’ve learned in my career,” Schoch said, “is that you don’t always get from point A to point B. It moves around. I think I’ve taken a lesson from when Henry Ford started the company. He didn’t invent the car, but he invented the assembly line, reduced the cost to manufacture the product, and doubled employees’ salaries with the vision of creating a better world. That’s how he changed the way the world moved.
“For me, if I can give back in a small way, I can make a big difference in a lot of people’s lives.”
Booth summed up Schoch’s impact and four-decade tenure with Ford in seven words.
“It’s a better place with him here,” Booth said.