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A Second Act: Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford Motor Co.

Writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “There are no second acts in American lives.”

That proved not the case for Alan Mulally.


After 37-years at Boeing where he started off as an engineer and eventually became executive vice president, Mulally was appointed CEO of Ford in 2006. Industry observers were shocked: never had someone with absolutely no car experience been appointed to such a high position.

And it definitely started off as a bumpy ride. In 2006, Ford posted a $12.6 billion loss and another $2.7 billion in 2007. Though Ford’s problems were in place long before Mulally came to the company, it was still up to him to do something about it.

Mulally was part of the “Detroit Three” automakers that appeared in the infamous Capitol Hill bailout hearings. Mulally’s own image took a beating during the hearings. However, unlike the other two companies, Ford did not accept the government-aided bailout and did not have to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Mulally’s plan for Ford included cutting labor costs, taking out loans – more than $23 million worth – and selling non-core brands, such as Land Rover and Volvo. Today, Ford has about 120,000 fewer workers than it did in 2006.

Some people call it one of the biggest business turnarounds from the great recession. It also marked the second act in Mulally’s life.

“We are fighting for the soul of American manufacturing,” Mulally said in an interview with Time Magazine. “We are leading the way.”

One of Mulally’s biggest endeavors was to change the company’s corporate culture. Fierce loyalties and frequent turf battles were the hallmarks of Ford’s management culture in the past. Mulally vowed to operate with a transparent management style.

“Communicate, communicate, communicate,” he said in an interview with CNN. “Everyone has to know the plan, its status, and the areas that need special attention.”

Mulally lives within three miles of his office at Ford’s global headquarters and arrives at 5:15 a.m. every morning and works for twelve hours a day. Every Thursday morning he has meetings with Ford’s executives called the “Business Plan Review.”

“I’ve been studying the turnaround at Ford,” said Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz in an interview with CNN. “The reason it has outpaced GM and Chrysler is because of the leadership and focus that Alan Mulally has brought.”

Mulally is 65 but don’t expect him to retire anytime soon. After all, he is not complete with his second act.

“I love what I’m doing,” he said. “We’re accelerating Henry Ford’s vision and that is pretty exciting. I don’t want to retire.”

Sources: Smart Money, Time, CNN, Wikipedia

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