Is Ford Motor Company Ready for its Wings?
The resignation of William Ford as Chief Executive of Ford Motor Company may be seen by some as the latest signal that the Detroit auto maker’s troubles are deep and varied. And while it’s easy to speculate from the gallery that supports the word processors of the media, it may be that Bill Ford’s latest move is a huge step forward for the company, its shareholders, and its customers.
New Ford CEO Alan Mulally
Ford knew he had to step down. By his own admission, he was, “wearing too many hats.” But in the process of vacating his office, he handed the keys to a very interesting successor. Alan Mulally takes on the responsibility of CEO. Each step of this process was orchestrated by Bill Ford, who has been very clear that the status quo was no longer good enough and a global view to the market was required.
Alan Mulally resigned his position as Chief Executive of the Boeing Corporation’s commercial airplane division. He is a man with zero automotive experience. He is also extremely experienced at product planning, execution, and meeting the competition head to head in a global sales environment.
“The rest of our management team really needed someone who had been through all of this — been through the wars, had the battle scars and been victorious,” said Ford, 49. Of some interest, Mulally, 61, had studied one of Ford’s most successful products, the Taurus, and applied some of what he learned to the development of the Boeing 777, one of the company’s most successful products.
Mulally may be considered a “techno-geek” by some of his peers – after all, he was at Boeing for 37 years. But, he managed to become head of Boeing’s commercial aircraft business in 1998, found funding for new aircraft after the 9/11 tragedies, and fought off competition from Euro rival Airbus SAS. The company’s latest gem, the 787 is a hot property and Boeing is expected to bypass Airbus with regard to deliveries for the first time in three years.
By comparison, Ford lost $1.4 billion (that’s with a “B”) in the first half of 2006. In July, Toyota Motor Corp. surpassed Ford for second place in monthly new vehicle sales in the United States for the first time. A number of Ford plants are temporarily being shuttered and a widespread “restructuring” continues. Ford is cutting 30,000 jobs and closing 14 factories by 2012, including seven big assembly plants.
So, how is any of this good news? While the outcome remains to be seen, it’s clear that Mulally is focused and driven. His appointment as the new CEO also sends a signal to the entire Ford enterprise: as a non-automotive executive, thing will be diffierent under Mulally’s leadership. He has some good executives at Ford to support his efforts, including executive vice president Mark Fields, who has promised to bring North American operations back into the black within a year.
The successes at Boeing involved careful product planning, a vision for delivering a product desired by customers, and the skill and structure to meet deadlines and budgets. It also involved generating strong team spirit and confidence in the company by its shareholders and customers. If Mulally can affix some of that Boeing spirt in Detroit, the American auto maker may find itself on the world stage yet.