General counsel is a highly revered post that comes with an immense amount of prestige, respect and great responsibility. For Ford Motor Company, Bradley Gayton is the accomplished man who holds this distinguished position. On Jan. 1, 2016, Gayton was named general counsel and vice president of Ford Motor Company and it’s definitely a position Gayton earned as he worked his way up the corporate ladder. He started his career at Ford as a law clerk during his second and third year of law school at the State University of New York at Buffalo and is now a Ford Motor Company officer who reports directly to Ford’s president and CEO, Mark Fields.
Gayton invited rolling out inside his executive level office in Dearborn, Michigan, for an exclusive interview. The view from his office was spectacular, even on a cloudy day. He mentioned that on a clear day, one could see miles and miles away, as far as downtown Detroit. The impeccably groomed Gayton wore a perfectly tailored suit with a red tie, along with a custom-made, monogrammed, button-down shirt that displayed his signature. He definitely looked ready for his interview as he graciously welcomed us in and made us feel like we were at home.
Check out the inspiring interview below, and let us know what you think in the comment section.
You are the general counsel and vice president for Ford Motor Company. You’ve been with Ford since 1991. You’ve held many roles during your tenure at Ford. Tell us about your journey to becoming the general counsel and vice president at Ford Motor Company.
It started in the summer of 1990 when I came here as a law clerk. In the fall of 1989, I interviewed for a summer job. I came here in the summer of 1990 in between my second year and third year of law school at the University of Buffalo. I spent time in taking assignments in the different departments in the legal office over the summer. Then in the fall of 1990 when I got back to law school, I was given an offer to join the company’s legal department after I graduated. Aug. 5, 1991, I joined the legal office. I started off in the tax office, and I spent a fair amount of my career in different jobs within the tax office. At one point in my career I had the opportunity to manage legal affairs for Canada, Mexico and Latin America. Then later on became assistant secretary, and then became the company’s sixth corporate secretary. And then in October, we announced that I was going to be our general counsel, effective Jan. 1. So, that’s a nutshell of the journey.
Tell us about your current role and responsibilities.
Right now, I’m responsible for all of Ford’s, Ford Credit’s legal affairs around the world. Also, the General Auditor’s office reports to me administratively. So, all together that is about 625 employees that we manage on a global basis, and that team is responsible for the delivery of legal services in every market that we’re in around the world.
One of your jobs is protecting Ford’s brand. So what are your day-to-day activities in going about protecting the brand?
As general counsel, I am responsible for all of our company’s legal activities. But you’re also part of the leadership team. You’re also called upon to just be another business person around the table — in terms of dealing with some of the issues facing our company. So, I’m in a lot of different corporate governance forums where as a management team, we work together shaping the future of our company. We’re really figuring out how we’re going to deal with some of the challenges and exploit some of the tremendous opportunities that are in front of as a leadership team.
Your team also does a lot of pro bono work. Can you tell us about that?
We do. So, our office has a really rich history of doing pro bono. It had that history when I joined the office. Our then-general counsel really saw a need and was a leader in the corporate pro bono community. We’ve set goals for our lawyers — we want 100 percent participation. We want people to commit just 30 hours per year to doing pro bono. It is critically important that we all engage in pro bono work. Our company has a culture of doing community service, which is great. And certainly as the company’s legal office, we can do community service. But, one way to think about pro bono is that there’s a lot of people that can pick up a rake and help clean up a park, but we’re uniquely trained to be able to provide people with access to justice. It is really important that we use our unique skills to help people gain access to justice. So, what that means is that we have lawyers and accountants helping people prepare tax returns right now, we run food stamp clinics to help people navigate the complexities of applying for and securing food stamps, and we do a program called Wills for Heroes where we provide wills for firefighters, policemen, and people who are in the military. Then there are other programs we run that I’m heavily involved in where we help people that are victims of crimes get on a path to citizenship. Most of those people are women who are usually a victim of a crime from a husband or a boyfriend, and if they help prosecute then they can get on a path toward getting legal permission to stay in the US and ultimately maybe even get a green card. So, we work on those cases as well.
One of your passions is helping women and you sit on the board for Alternatives for Girls. Can you tell us about your work there?
I sit on the board there, and I sit on the Finance Committee. Alternatives for Girls is, in my estimation, one of two organizations in our area that just do a phenomenal job of trying to improve the lives of women and girls. The other is Vista Maria, and I’m in the process of applying to get on the board there. So, those two organizations I think are the two premiere organizations in the area that try to make a difference. They have shelters for women and girls that are trying to get off the streets or that are in transition from a difficult situation. They have a lot of after-school programs and they both do a really good job at helping girls develop a plan to stay in school, graduate and seeing the girls go on to college and graduate.
What is the motivation behind the desire to help women and children?
Just trying to raise my daughters, and I think through that process, I recognized that they have challenges that I didn’t have as a man. What I care about outside of here [Ford] is making the world a better place for women and girls. I have that perspective, I’m sure, because I’m a father of three daughters. Without that perspective and challenge of just trying to raise them in what I view is kind of a difficult environment for women, I probably would not have that view. I spend time with my family, I spend time at work and outside of that, that’s what I focus on.
So, we know that you are a very prestigious and accomplished man who’s ascended to heights on the corporate ladder that very few men or women have been able to reach. That’s definitely something to be proud of. Now our readers want to know what do you do for fun? Please tell our readers some fun facts about yourself that you’d like to share.
I love to ride motorcycles and my 2016 challenge is, I’m actually thinking about racing. I’ve been riding motorcycles since I was probably about 12 or 13. There’s an element of risk to it, but I find it to be the most therapeutic thing. It’s odd because it’s one of the things where you’re paying attention and you’re really kind of in a zone when you’re riding. But maybe that’s it; you’re so focused on riding that all the other thoughts just leave your mind. I don’t have Bluetooth in my helmet, I’m not on the phone, nobody can bother me, and it’s my time to myself.
How many bikes do you have? Because we know you have more than one.
I have two. But for my regular vehicle, I drive a Lincoln Navigator. I get a new one every year with all the bells and whistles; I just pick a new color.