Alan Mulally: ‘I’m in awe’ of Ford’s turnaround

Michael Martinez, The Detroit News

On the eve of his induction into the Automotive Hall of Fame, former Ford Motor Co. President and CEO Alan Mulally credits his “wonderful” relationship with Executive Chairman Bill Ford for his ability to save the Dearborn automaker from financial collapse.

Mulally, in an interview with The Detroit News, said he wouldn’t have left control of Boeing Co. in 2006 to travel across the country to join a near-bankrupt automaker without Ford, whom he described as a “phenomenal leader.”

“One of the biggest reasons I did accept was Bill; he was committed to partnering with me to not only save this fantastic company but to create an exciting, profitable and viable Ford,” he said. “Every element of the plan, we did it together. It was just so fun.”

Mulally will be inducted Thursday night in a ceremony at Cobo Center alongside Roy Lunn, engineer of the Ford GT40 that swept the podium at the 1966 Le Mans race; automotive safety advocate Ralph Nader; and Bertha Benz, wife and business partner to Karl Benz, founder of the German automaker Mercedes-Benz.

“It’s a very special honor,” Mulally said.

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Mulally made sweeping changes at Ford that included shedding brands like Jaguar and Land Rover; re-introducing famous nameplates like the Taurus; and overhauling the company’s divisive and inclusive corporate culture. He famously mortgaged everything — including the Blue Oval logo — to pay for a renovation of the company’s product portfolio and avoid a government bailout as bankruptcy loomed.

“While Alan’s list of accomplishments is extensive, I think his greatest achievement was the culture shift he brought to Ford,” Ford said in a statement. “Alan’s genuine interest in people really transcended everything we did and largely was the reason everyone rallied behind him because they could see he was an authentic leader that cared about people and the business. The level of working together that Alan instilled in our company is what propelled us forward and what continues to enable us to act quickly with greater transparency than ever before.”

Mulally said he understood the weight of the job before he accepted because of the transparency Bill Ford showed in their early meetings. He said the two talked so often that they almost wore out the carpet between their offices atop Ford’s Glass House headquarters.

“About six months into the job, I knew we had him emotionally when he stopped doodling airplanes and he started doodling cars,” Ford said.

Much of what Mulally instilled is still in place today. The company has ridden its One Ford strategy — standardizing its product portfolio across the globe — to record profits in recent years, including earnings of $2.5 billion in the first quarter of 2016.

“I certainly don’t have any regrets,” he said. “I’m in awe of what we all accomplished.”

Today, Mulally said he enjoys his retired life by spending time with family, golfing and playing tennis. He consults, teaches and serves on the board of directors for Google Inc. and 3-D printing company Carbon 3D.

The pace of the introduction of autonomous vehicle technology has quickened exponentially since his retirement two years ago. He said he views the technology as a great opportunity to provide new modes of transportation to the masses.

“The trends going on right now in the world, there’s tremendous opportunity for us to continue to serve in new and more efficient ways,” he said. “It’s the opportunity and the excitement of the further evolution of safe and efficient transportation. That’s what we’ve always been about.”

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