London-born Simon Pitts joined the Ford Motor Company in 1976 because it was a global automaker and he was fascinated with the company's products. Now Pitts is using his own international career to work as Ford's executive director of the MIT-Ford Alliance, bringing the automaker's perspectives to campus and delivering MIT insights to Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.
"Over the last three years, as director of product development operations for the Ford, Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover brands, I've been working with the Ford-MIT Alliance looking after the product development process," Pitts said. "That really piqued my interest in getting some synergy between a commercial automotive business and its advanced research and harnessing the parallel work that MIT is doing."
Pitts's career began in power-train (the apparati that transfer power from the engine to the axle in a vehicle, usually known as the transmission) development research with Ford shortly after graduating from the U.K.'s Loughborough University. His assignments, in addition to varied power-train positions, have included global vehicle line director of the Focus, North American director of manufacturing operations, and director of worldwide power-train planning. These positions in the U.K., Germany, and the U.S. have been interspersed with executive education stints in France at INSEAD, the global business school. "Now I'm back into advanced research, so it's full circle."
Since arriving at MIT in August, Pitts has been targeting new strategic connections between faculty, researchers, students and Ford participants from vice presidents to engineers. "My goal is to take the individual pieces of the Alliance and holistically drive them forward. The trick to maximizing the benefit for MIT and Ford is to really look between the individual elements for opportunities--not consider just one project or education program or student at a time. It's the way we put the package together that really drives the benefits for both entities."
Pitts will collaborate with the executive director on the MIT side, Joseph Saleh (Ph.D. 2002 in aeronautics and astronautics).
The Ford-MIT Alliance, an Institute-wide program financially administered by the Center for Technology, Policy and Industrial Development, currrently supports more than 25 collaborative research projects and has supported more than 80 since it was estabalished in 1997.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 27, 2004 (download PDF).