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Driven a Ford Lately? (Part Two)

Last time I shared some of Ford Motor Company’s history in making comebacks. Then just a few days ago, business news sources announced Ford as beating analyst estimates and turning a profit for the recent quarter — its first in five quarters. Ford, by the way is the single U.S. automaker to neither accept a bailout nor declare bankruptcy.

Central to the story of Ford’s current comeback is CEO Alan Mulally, who brought a unique perspective from his prior life of leading Boeing. A Fortune article by Alex Taylor III (5/25/09), gives a glimpse of Mulally methods he has geared to steer the business back to profitability.

"I live for Thursday mornings at 8 a.m.," says Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally  Thursdays at eight is when Alan meets with his direct reports from Ford’s four profit centers and 12 functional areas in the Thunderbird conference room at the Ford headquarters. The team sits "around a circular dark-wood table" with Alan in the "pilot’s seat." Blackberries aren’t allowed and neither are side conversations.

"If somebody starts to talk or they don’t respect each other, the meeting just stops," says Alan. "They know I’ve removed vice presidents because they couldn’t stop talking because they thought they were so damn important." Instead the team presents reports coded as either "green for good, yellow for caution, red for problems."

The first few times Alan held these meetings everybody coded their reports "green," but Alan fixed that in a hurry. He said: "You guys, you know we lost a few billion dollars last year. Is there anything that’s not going well?" One brave executive admitted being behind schedule due to unexpected obstacles and that opened the floodgates. Within a week, says Alan, "the entire set of charts were all rainbows." Ford’s ability to sustain progress remains to be seen, of course. But Alan sounds resolute: "I am here to save an American and global icon," he says. His secret is, there are no secrets. "This is a huge enterprise, and the magic is, everybody knows the plan," he says.

Leadership lessons I take from this are:
1. Convince managers to be transparent about real issues faced; enable them by a non-judgemental atmosphere
2. Get past "feel-good" progress reporting to collaborative problem-solving among peers.
3. Over-communicate the ultimate goals and what needs to be done, with some passion. 

About the Author

Jeff Marr

Jeff Marr

Marr provides thought leadership to Walker and the customer strategy profession. In keeping with the newest proven approaches, Marr designs services used in client engagements. This includes facilitating customer-driven action by clients at the corporate, functional and account team levels, and creating new measurement solutions. Formal approaches Jeff helped create and launch include value mapping, account engagement, strategic assessment, won/lost bid assessment, and assessing lost/diminished customers.

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