Hackernoon logo‘Ford Vs. Ferrari’: A Film About Product Leadership Lessons by@sundar_2279

‘Ford Vs. Ferrari’: A Film About Product Leadership Lessons

Sundar Raghavan Hacker Noon profile picture

@sundar_2279Sundar Raghavan

The sports drama Ford vs Ferrari teaches a lot about product leadership especially the “4 P's”:

  • Product,
  • People,
  • Place and
  • Pitch (I replaced Promotion with Pitch)

The movie is an inspiration to watch from product aspect, though the story is about car racing enduring 24 hours car race – Le mans, France, I believe it is about building solid product and leadership that wins over the competition.

Warning: Mild spoilers ahead.


In the opening scenes, the movie talks about how Ford Jr wants innovation in his units and asks his men to come up with ideas. One executive, Lee Lococca passionately pitches that they have been thinking wrong and insists on building a product that could inspire customers. He also says that Enzo Ferrari will go down in the history as the greatest manufacturer not because Ferrari produces more cars but due to the fact Ferrari means “Victory and Speed”. Though Ford Jr was reluctant to accept this, he listened to Lococca’s passionate pitch and let his team pursue the objectives.

Convincing others to believe the problem statement we are selling is great skill to possess. Pitching to your potential customers or investors or your team is critical in selling your ideas and making the team work for you as you get only one chance to make good impression and it has to be right the first time.

The key to pitch is about self-analysis, detail orientation, focus and presenting fluidly and confidently to audiences. The pitch was attention grabbing, clear, single-minded and highlighted benefits setting foundation for others to believe in the problem statement and way forward to Ford.


Apart from top notch acting, the movie shows the elements of a successful team such as:

  • skills,
  • trust,
  • leadership,
  • culture,
  • communication,
  • adapting best practices,
  • making decisions,
  • creative problem solving, and
  • commitment, amongst few more.


Ford has a corporate culture and Shelby's is individualism with entrepreneur skillset.  Both teams understand that to win Le Mans speed is critical, and their car should be faster than whatever Ferrari shows up with that year. This results in creating a culture prompting both teams come together to build a winning product.

Choosing a Team

When Lococca approaches Shelby to build a car in 90 days time that can win the Le Mans, Lococca knows Shelby can build a car since Shelby won Le Mans race and builds high performance cars for a living.

He approaches a person with right skills to build a product. Shelby chooses Miles who is passionate to win car race and has a skill behind the wheels to control car at high speeds.

The skills of Shelby and Miles are demonstrated successfully upon which trust is built. They both knew when to push the car at 7K RPM and control the car when needed.


A leader will have to pick his team and support his team in challenging situation. Ford Jr trusts Shelby and grants autonomy to build a car even when they failed in their first attempt at Le Mans. Similarly, Shelby demands that Miles should be included in the team if they would like win the race even when Leo Beebe Head of Car Racing at Ford dislikes Miles for being “too pure, or rather, not a Ford driver”.

Leadership is about trust and taking risks in a calculated manner.

Ford Jr, Shelby and Miles trusted each other.

Leadership is all about choosing a winning a team and empowering them to reach the objectives.

Adapting Best Practices

In the Daytona car racing, the Shelby team learns that another Ford Team has a “faster pitstop” as they are using NASCAR team. When we look outside our work area creativity improves and we learn better things, this happens in organization where they adapt success stories from market leaders, it is better to look outside for inspiration and adapt best practices saving time and reinventing things.


The team is highly committed, when Leo Beebe asks Miles to slow down thinking it would be great to show all three Fords coming at same time Miles does it, he is satisfied and thankful for participating in Le Mans even though he was laps ahead of other Ford and coming second in the race.

Miles would win easily as he had complete support from Shelby but showed great team commitment and gratitude. The team that builds products should be highly committed and self motivated to achieve the objectives.


Building product start with a vision and strategy.

Shelby’s team build a product with an objective of winning the race, this shared vision brought in ideas to improve the product and create "Speed, a value proposition" at Le Mans. No need to build new products always, we can leverage the existing one and make it better. We spend lot of time on a new product that is not sustainable in the long term and key is understanding the product market fitment, this is a vital to success. Shelby never compromised on Speed, team did everything to ensure their car is faster than what model Ferrari will be driving at Le Mans.

Shelby’s team assess the GT40 Mk I and improves car by understanding all of the design flaws, the team studies technology behind the car and address aero dynamism problems to improve its performance.

A Product team will need to understand the technology that goes into building the product, this understanding will let them to fine tune the products as per needs and make it suitable for customers.

The product should be tested very well and any weakness is identified team to come up with a mitigation plan - Shelby did the same, they knew brakes had problems and must be replaced when needed. Knowing the strength and weakness of your product helps to position the product rightly.


Building products can be easy at times, an engineering team can be good and can get creative but understanding the market is key to success. The market has seen great companies fall when they fail to respond to the ever-changing demands.

Shelby’s team know what it takes to win Le Mans, it is a 24 hours endurance car racing, winner covers maximum distance without mechanical failure in 24 hours. The team studied the rules very well and played by books pushing the competition to limits and kept pressure on Ferrari until Ferraris faced mechanical failure and dropped out from race, this lets all top three positions taken by Ford cars.

The movie shows how competitor creates a disruption with a new product, Ferrari didn’t have problems that year, Ford-Shelby triumphed as they built a solid product, team trusted each other, understood the problem area and pushed the competition to limits that costed Ferrari the championship.


In today’s world we have many new players threatening market leaders, the market appreciates those who understand demands and agile in creating winning culture. Ford still remains the only American car company to win 4 time at Le Mans. Ford is highest selling sports cars in 4 seat category and sold over 10 million sports cars - phenomenal achievement and trust created in the market.

 Many thanks for reading this far.

Previously published here.

Lead image by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash.


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