Allen Mullaly will certainly go down in history as one of the best chief executives in corporate history, primarily for his tenure at Ford Motor Company from 2006 to 2014.
He engineered a turnaround at the automaker that saved Ford from the fate that befell its two North American competitors; both General Motors and Chrysler were forced into bankruptcy protection and ultimately saved by government bailouts.
Prior to that, Mullaly had successfully navigated Boeing’s commercial aircraft division through a troubled period post-9/11.
Bryce G. Hoffman’s book “American Icon” narrates the period since 2006 as Mullaly starts to stage the epic turnaround at Ford. Hoffman, a journalist for Detroit News, was able to access the company’s archives and talk to Ford’s other top executives.
At the time of Mullaly’s arrival, Ford was mired by fiefdoms as each top executive worked to protect their own turf. But Mullaly didn’t replace the top executives with his own people. Instead he encouraged teamwork in the belief that Ford was already staffed with very capable individuals. His weekly meetings fostered sharing and honesty with no shame for accepting blame.
As an individual, Mullaly comes across as simple and upbeat, hugging glum employees in corridors or having lunch with new employees discussing their jobs. One aspect which stands out is his relentless push for product development as Ford’s competitors aggressively cut capex (capital expenditure) in 2008-09. As a result, Ford has grabbed market share and its products are appreciated for their quality.
To give all of the credit to Mullaly would be foolhardy. Hoffman highlights the role played by Bill Ford and several other top executives. Bill Ford graciously stepped aside for Mullaly to take the top job. And he along with Chief Financial Officer Don Leclair prepared the groundwork for a huge financing to ensure Mullaly had the resources to restructure the company successfully.
“American Icon” demonstrates how Mullaly also accelerated the Way Forward plan using the global manufacturing platform for product development first proposed by Mark Fields, President of the Americas. Mullaly combined his manufacturing and finance skills as he brought together an exceptional team at Ford to succeed even as its two rivals had to get help from the U.S. and Canadian.