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Business Spotlight: Powerful lessons from Alan Mulally from the 2014 NC CEO Forum

| November 24, 2014

Ford was in dire straits, and likely headed for bankruptcy/government dependence had it not been for Alan Mulally, brought in as CEO in 2006, just months before the financial collapse. His skill at turning around the giant auto maker is unparalleled in automotive history, and in turn was able to avoid the embarrassing government-funded fate of the other two “big three” auto makers. The lessons given at the 2014 North Carolina CEO forum have invigorated me with powerful lessons on life and how to lead.

The Sickly Sleeping Giant:

Ford had become a disjointed house of brands when Mulally stepped in.  Mulally realized they had lost focus of what their core was: the actual FORD brand itself. They had fragmented operations spread across the world, each operating semi-independently. They faced rising gas prices, the huge burden of oversized union mandated employee obligations, a reduction of market share from 26% to 12%, and worst of all a $17,000,000,000 loss forecasted into 2007.  Well… they met their forecast in 2007 (bringing chuckles from the audience). Ford also launched a massive turnaround never before seen in such a large employer. The future of the American automotive industry changed forever.

The Comeback Kid:

The formula for success started with a simple philosophy, according to Mulally: “deal with reality.” Step 1was taking an initial assessment of where theyactually were.  Step 2 was finding their compelling vision, which for them was the actual brand of Ford (opposed to Land Rover, Jaguar, etc).  Step 3 was to formulate a strategy to deliver on that brand. 

The Ford strategy involved creating the “One Ford” mission and vision, placing it onto a card, and distributing it to all employees, who could reference it in a moment’s notice from their pockets to ensure all were on the same page.  They were able to find profitability even with lower demand through a variety of ways, including renegotiating their union contracts so the company could survive and thrive.  They held meetings each week, with team members from every production and design facility across the globe, at the same time.  At these meetings they encouraged everyone to share their organization’s weaknesses and challenges and how others have dealt with and overcome those same challenges. 

The Goal of the “One Ford” mission and vision is “…delivering profitable growth for all” which really helped underlie why the changes were being made for all employees so they could understand the reason driving that change.  Being transparent to the employees was a critical factor in their success.  Ford did the amazing thing by actually admitting they had a problem, facing the tough realities associated with that problem, and creating a solution and a positive way out.  That is something we can all learn from.

Contributed by Gray Pendleton

Link to ONE FORD mission and vision statement page:

Source: Alan Mulally &