New book gushes over Mulally, raises a few Ford issues

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A former Ford executive’s self-published paean to CEO Alan Mulally includes a few thought-provoking nuggets.

I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Ford Motor Company: The Greatest Corporate Turnaround in U.S. History, by Gerhard Geyer.

The book is a recounting of media coverage of Ford’s rebound under Mulally, leavened with lines from American pop music and Geyer’s reminiscences about his youth in Nazi Germany and the opportunities that America offered him.

Geyer is a retired 30-year Ford veteran. His work at the automaker included business planning, corporate strategy, business development, product planning, divestitures, and the negotiation of joint ventures and licensing deals.

Despite Geyer’s decades at Ford, the 518-page book doesn’t offer any behind-the-scenes tales of an insider. And the repeated quotes from MSNBC, Fortune, Forbes and, yes, Automotive News get tiresome.

Praise, more praise

But the main problem is the constant hagiography.

Geyer can’t go two pages without another round of effusive praise for Mulally. He clearly thinks the Ford CEO deserves several Nobel prizes and sainthood. At one point Geyer writes, “Actually, I am convinced that Mr. Mulally can walk on water!”

To quote Dave Barry, “I’m not making this up!”

But Geyer also includes some points worth repeating.

He considers Lincoln so weak as to leave Ford with one and a half brands, and says it remains to be seen whether Ford Motor can return Lincoln to its status as a viable franchise. He notes, “None of the top ten world automotive companies are one-brand entities.”

He says he would have kept Mercury alive for two more years “until the Lincoln product pipeline is supercharged to the nth degree.”

Turf wars again?

In one of the few insider comments, he writes, “High-level former colleagues told me that … any executive who puts roadblocks on the free flow of information gambles with his or her career.”

And in a section devoted to the questions hanging over Ford’s future, Geyer asks, will we see “internal rivalries and turf wars again with the unsettling struggle for leadership when Mr. Mulally nears retirement?”

Anyone who has seen Ford Motor up close knows that it used to be rife with internal rivalries, and information was jealously guarded within each faction’s turf. Ending all that has been one of Mulally’s extraordinary accomplishments.

But, as Geyer notes, the real test is whether those changes will endure.

You can reach James B. Treece at jtreece@crain.com.

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