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CNBC: Rebuilding an American Icon

by DrivingEnthusiast

Interesting documentary on CNBC last night, tracking the return of Ford to the #1 position in American automobile manufacturers. And a special focus was Alan Mullaly, who is not only the face of Ford but the “driver” behind the comeback and revitalization.

We were however particularly irritated by the segment covering Bill Ford. CNBC seems to have missed the fact that Bill Ford was the one who caused the crisis in the first place. He thought he could run a company, he put himself in sole charge, he established the structure of the company, he drove the product plan, the buck stopped on his desk, and therefore he blew it. And he never admitted any role in the fall at all.

An important segment interviewed staffers from Consumer Reports, whose carefully tested statistics showed a serious quality drop at Ford earlier in the decade, then a major quality gain in the last two years. That matches our own experience with Ford products from that timeframe, particularly our 2003 Cobra with it’s POS engine that died due to a build error on the production line as well as inherent design flaws and lack of development testing.

And then we were introduced to Henry Ford III.  What are his qualifications, why is he even there and why is he ahead of anybody else? Sounds like a Ford Family “legacy” is something like the infamous Kennedy legacy: you can’t seem to ever be rid of them; we (Ford and our country) can’t seem to get to a place where professional qualifications and abilities lead to promotions rather than Family “birthrights” and image “rehabilitation”.

The next segment covered India, and the tremendous opportunities there for growth. We were introduced to the new Ford Figo… which looks to us suspiciously like a past-generation Fiesta. Nonetheless, it literally means freedom and opportunity for middle class Indians.  No mention was made of the issues of dramatically increasing carbon dioxide emissions resulting from this growth. And while India is a huge growth market, it’s certainly not the only one. We think that Europe should have received due coverage for their terrific product accomplishments.

The segment on Sync was worrying… while Ford leads the way in Human Machine Interface (HMI) and is far ahead of the rest of the industry, the U.S. Government in the person of political appointee Ray LaHood is on a path to prohibit any and all cell phone access from the inside the car – even with hands-free. Whether LaHood can pull that off before his administration is run out of office remains to be seen.

The next segment covered the sad history of the Explorer, without specifically mentioning the issue of properly monitoring tire pressure and the resultant crashes. The issue was only covered as background for the development of new Explorer and it’s “curve control” technology. Nice technology – but it’s ultimately only a band-aid to the real problem. Hopefully the tire pressure monitoring systems required in all new cars will ensure that owners keep the tires inflated properly.

While several important aspects of the company’s failings and successes where glossed over or ignored, the facts remain that Ford is by far the most successful and forward-thinking of the Big Three. And admired: customers consistently recognize Ford for it’s successes and especially for not accepting bail-outs. But whether growth can continue in the longer term after Alan Mullaly retires and a new generation of leadership takes over, remains to be seen. The documentary also pointed out that this has been a cyclical problem starting with Henry Ford and repeating right up to the present.

Reference: Alan Mulally Bio


Title: President and CEO, Ford Motor Company

  • Joined Ford:  September 2006

Alan Mulally is president and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Company. He also is a member of the company’s Board of Directors.

Prior to joining Ford in September 2006, Mulally served as executive vice president of The Boeing Company, and president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.  In that role, he was responsible for all of the company’s commercial airplane programs and related services. Mulally also was a member of the Boeing Executive Council and served as Boeing’s senior executive in the Pacific Northwest.

Mulally was named Boeing’s president of Commercial Airplanes in September 1998. The responsibility of chief executive officer for the business unit was added in March 2001.

Previously, Mulally served as president of Boeing Information, Space & Defense Systems and senior vice president of The Boeing Company. Appointed to that role in February 1997, he was responsible for Boeing’s defense, space and government business.

Beginning in 1994, Mulally was senior vice president of Airplane Development for Boeing Commercial Airplanes Group, responsible for all airplane development activities, flight test operations, certification and government technical liaison. Earlier, Mulally served as Boeing’s vice president of Engineering, and as vice president and general manager of the 777 program.

Mulally joined Boeing in 1969 and progressed through a number of significant engineering and program-management assignments, including contributions on the 727, 737, 747, 757 and 767 airplanes.

Throughout his career, Mulally has been recognized for his contributions and industry leadership, including being named “Industry Leader of the Year” by Automotive News magazine, one of “The World’s Most Influential People” by TIME magazine, one of “The 30 Most Respected CEOs” by Barrons magazine, “Person of the Year” by Aviation Week magazine and one of “The Best Leaders” by BusinessWeek magazine.

Mulally serves on the President’s Export Council which was formed in 2010 to advise U.S. President Barack Obama on export enhancement and ways to encourage companies to increase exports and enter new markets.  He previously served as co-chair of the Washington Competitiveness Council, and sat on the advisory boards of NASA, the University of Washington, the University of Kansas, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. He is a member of the United States National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of England’s Royal Academy of Engineering.

He also served as a past president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and is a former president of its Foundation. Additionally, Mulally served as a past chairman of the Board of Governors of the Aerospace Industries Association.

Mulally holds bachelor’s and master’s of science degrees in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from the University of Kansas, and earned a master’s in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a 1982 Alfred P. Sloan fellow.

A native of Kansas, Mulally is a private pilot and enjoys tennis, golf and reading.

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