John Henry Pace ’10, ’11 MS has been fascinated by automobiles for as long as he can remember.
On May 19 he helped bring nationwide attention to an electric version of the nation’s bestselling pickup truck. Pace, who has worked at Ford for about 10 years, recently coordinated the reveal of the automaker’s new F-150 Lightning.
“If we want to make a more sustainable planet for future generations, we need to make massive paradigm shifts,” Pace says. “To be able to deliver an F-150 that’s all electric, that can work like a truck and drive like a truck and convert truck owners to electrified vehicles — that’s a massive shift that can hopefully pivot the industry toward a more electrified future.”
As lead project manager, Pace was responsible for making sure the prototype trucks were fully functional in time for the May event. “We [had] three vehicles that were all specially built just for that reveal,” he says. “They don’t just roll off the assembly line … They’re all essentially hand-built, hand-painted [and made to function] as they should way ahead of the normal [production] time frame.”
The F-150 Lightning garnered national media attention when President Joe Biden took one prototype for a test drive — an unexpected surprise that felt especially rewarding for Pace.
“To see the truck get such positive press and being a part of the reveal of such an important product is incredibly satisfying,” Pace says. “But having it be woven into the [president’s] plan for making us a more sustainable country — there’s nothing more rewarding than that.”
Pace admits it was no easy feat. “It was a dead sprint since late January,” he says. “It’s really tough because, [with] where we are in the production timeline, a lot of the really fun features and options that come with this electrified truck are still going through engineering testing, and we’re [still] working out the bugs.” In all, Pace’s team coordinated the preparation of 40 prototype trucks over several months, for program testing and media purposes.
Looking ahead, Pace says the auto industry has a bright future. “Electrification is the way of the future,” he says. “This isn’t a pipe dream. … It’s right now. And you’re going to see more of these manufacturers coming out with … a whole portfolio of electrified vehicles. The way that we drive and the way that we transport things is totally going to change.”
Pace’s interest in sustainability began when he was a mechanical engineering student at Northwestern. He went on to pursue his master’s in project management as well, during which he wrote a thesis on how automobile facilities — which use lots of energy and resources — can make their production practices more sustainable.
Pace also learned crucial time-management and team-building skills while he was a student. “Not only was I doing my engineering work, I also was playing varsity football at the time,” he says. “So, being able to balance top-tier academics and top-tier football and somehow have some semblance of a social life — that experience allowed me to figure out prioritization and time management and communication.”
Learning to trust his team — both in his engineering program and on the football field — was a critical life skill that Pace says led to his success at Ford. “We were on such a tight timetable [for the F-150 Lightning reveal] that I had to trust my colleagues that they were going to deliver when they could, and [that they would] come to me if there was a problem, and we’d work it out together,” he says. “And that trust — that’s something I really learned at Northwestern on a lot of those engineering projects.”
Diana Babineau is a writer and editor in the Office of Global Marketing and Communications.