Business Lessons From Pop Culture: Don’t wear collar pins and other wisdom from Ford v Ferrari

The Oscar-nominated film has some advice for keen observers.

Credit: Vancouver International Film Festival

Matt Damon (left) and Christian Bale star in Ford v Ferrari

The Oscar-nominated film has some advice for keen observers

The Academy Awards are almost here, so we feel like it’s an opportune time to launch a new column here at BCB.

You see, there are a variety of business lessons one can learn from the many properties in film and television operating both today and in the past. (And only some of those will be tongue-in-cheek!)

So where better to start than with the 2020 Oscar nominees for best film? Without further preamble, here’s some business advice from Ford v Ferrari.

(Light spoilers ahead.) 

Listen to the experts

While the non-fiction plot revolves around America’s Ford Motor Co. trying to beat Italy’s Ferrari at the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, the conflict is really between two race car experts, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Ken Miles (Christian Bale), and Ford itself. The film, however truthful it might be, firmly takes the side of the former.

And it’s good advice: if you’ve put experts in a position for a reason, you should trust them. Even if they want to hire people you don’t. 

This is really the lesson from the film, as Bale’s character is fired about three dozen times for things that have nothing to do with racing.

Don’t trust people who wear collar pins

Ford executive Leo Beebe was a real person, which is hard to believe, because he’s played by Josh Lucas as a repugnant caricature. It’s no surprise that people from his life have spoken out against the portrayal.

But that doesn’t make the above piece of advice any less true. The collar pin is not a good look. And it spells trouble.

Use all the tools at your disposal

The team at Ford slaves around the clock to build a state-of-the-art car, but when there’s a problem with one of the doors on the first lap, a Ford team member solves it by smashing it in with a mallet.

It might seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the simplest approaches can get the job done.

Learn from your past

We don’t want to spoil things too much for those who haven’t seen the movie, so we’ll just say this: make sure you constantly take past failures into account.

Bad, um, brakes will happen, but you have to learn from them.

The customer isn’t always right

In one of the film’s funnier exchanges, Bale’s Ken Miles tells an unhappy customer that there’s “nothing wrong with the car. It’s the way it’s being driven… That there, that is a sports car. You have to drive her like a sports car. If you drive her like a schoolteacher, she’ll clog up. Try changing up at 5,000 RPM, not two. Drive like you mean it. Hard, tight, she’ll run clean.”

The customer bristles at the notion. “In this country, the customer is always right!” he says after a few retorts. “You ever hear that?”

To which the British Miles replies, “Yeah, yeah. Utter nonsense.”

It’s a brilliant rejoinder in a movie that deals with Ford, one of the bigger emblems of Americana and all its flaws. 

But it’s also true. Tell your customers how it is. After all, they’re coming to you for a reason.