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Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford Motor Company, took questions from the standing-room-only audience at the Kellogg School after his April 18 talk about the company's turnaround.

Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford Motor Company

A comeback story

Ford Motor Company President and CEO Alan Mulally shares the story of Ford’s recent renaissance

By Daniel P. Smith

4/27/2012 - America loves its comeback stories and Alan Mulally has one to share.

In less than six years as president and CEO of Ford Motor Company, Mulally has resurrected the Michigan-based enterprise and repositioned it among the world’s automotive elite.

In a 70-minute program titled “The Ford Story,” Mulally detailed Ford’s early 21st-century turmoil and subsequent renaissance before a standing-room-only crowd at the Kellogg School on April 18.

The Ford story
When Mulally arrived at Ford in 2006, the automaker was on pace for a $17 billion loss in profits. The company lacked synergy as a result of regionalization, had failed to respond to customers’ calls for smaller vehicles, and had deserted its brand promise.

And to top it off, Mulally quipped, “There wasn’t even one Ford vehicle in the garage [at company headquarters].”
To spark Ford’s turnaround, even amid a recession, Mulally:

  • Streamlined collaboration and communication throughout the Ford ranks to breed innovation and accountability
  • Divested itself of brands such as Jaguar and Volvo so that it could devote a single-minded focus to the Ford and Lincoln lines
  • Committed to establishing a complete family of best-in-class vehicles
  • Accelerated new vehicle development while simultaneously matching production to demand

As Ford now enjoys heightened market share and profits, Mulally said the positive momentum stems from both “relentless implementation” as well as a return to the company’s ambitious roots.

“We opened the highways to all mankind,” Mulally said, referencing a 1925 Ford advertisement that shared founder Henry Ford’s vision to develop automobiles for the masses.

Candid discussion
Q&A dominated much of Mulally’s evening program, as audience members — students, professors and industry professionals alike — peppered the CEO with questions about cultural changes at Ford, legacy costs, the marriage of business and engineering, emerging international markets and Ford’s relationship with its independent store owners.
Addressing a question about Ford’s quality issues, Mulally said the company didn’t need to look far to gauge its problems.

“The data sets you free,” Mulally said.

In response to one Northwestern graduate’s question regarding alternative fuel vehicles, Mulally called electrification “the next frontier.”

Mulally, who was named to TIME Magazine’s “Most Influential” list in 2009, further acknowledged that the auto industry sits at the epicenter of numerous national and global issues, including corporate responsibility, environmental sustainability, economic development and energy independence.

Sponsored by the Northwestern University Transportation Center, Mulally’s presentation served as the 31st annual William A. Patterson Transportation Lecture.