Alan Mulally's Legacy

Alan Mulally’s Legacy

Today, Alan Mulally is retiring as CEO of Ford Motor Company.

When I was working on my book, American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company back in 2011, he shared with me some notes he made for himself shortly after he arrived in Dearborn in September 2006. At the top of one of the sheets of paper, he had written “Alan Legacy.” Below that, he listed his personal goals — the things he hoped to achieve before leaving Ford.

Here they are:

  • Clear, compelling vision going forward
  • Survive the perfect storm—commodities, oil, credit, CO2, safety, UAW
  • Develop a profitable growth plan, global products and product strategy
  • A skilled and motivated team
  • Reliable ongoing BPR process
  • A leader and leadership team with “One Ford” vision implementation tenacity

In the seven and a half years since Mulally penned these words, he has accomplished all of this and more.

He gave Ford that clear, compelling vision by returning to Henry Ford’s original mission: “Opening the Highways for All Mankind.” In other words, democratizing technology by turning the playthings of the rich into a means of transportation for the masses.

With Mulally at the helm, Ford did not just survive the perfect storm of rising commodity and oil prices, tightening credit markets, increasingly stringent emissions and safety regulations and unions that jealously guarded the benefits they had won for their members in better times; Ford also survived the far fiercer tempest that was the Great Recession. That typhoon would sink Ford’s crosstown rivals — General Motors and Chrysler — leaving them to be bailed out by the American and Canadian taxpayers while Ford saved itself.

Even as Ford’s cash reserves dwindled, Mulally would insist on maintaining the automaker’s investment in the new, game-changing global products that he knew were essential to his profitable growth plan.

Those products were the fruit of the skilled and motivated team he assembled to lead Ford’s turnaround. These men and women were products of the same dysfunctional Ford culture that had gotten the company into so much trouble in the first place, but Mulally showed them that they could achieve so much more for themselves and for Ford by working together than they ever would by trying to undermine and impede each other’s efforts.

Today, one of those executives, Mark Fields, is taking Mulally’s place as Ford’s CEO. And I believe he will build on the success Mulally has achieved at Ford by continuing to rely on the BPR, or business plan review, process that his predecessor brought with him from Boeing. It is a powerful tool for driving accountability, fostering teamwork and achieving strategic goals.

Whether Fields and his team will be able to maintain Mulally’s “One Ford” vision and continue to implement it with the same tenacity remains to be seen. But they know it works, and they know the old ways didn’t.

So, if Alan Mulally comes across this note as he cleans out his desk in the corner office on the twelfth floor of Ford’s world headquarters today, he will be able to check of each of these goals. For he not only accomplished all of these things, but also showed the world that at least one American automaker could pick itself up, shake off the rust, compete with the best in the world and win.


Bryce is a Senior Strategist at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about innovative leaders, leadership, and cultural transformation on his Principles to Live By blog

You can follow him on twitter @brycehoffman and LinkedIn




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