How Boeing prepared Alan Mulally for Ford

Ever wonder how Alan Mulally walked into Ford from the aircraft industry and knew exactly what to do to whip the company back into shape?

I came across a fine article on the woes of Boeing this week that strongly suggests that Mulally could quickly diagnose Ford's malady because he'd seen it before.

Written for Newsweek by aviation journalist Clive Irving, the article is a deep dive into the loss of focus at Boeing that, in Irving's view, led to the current 787 mess.

Irving recounts how he first visited Boeing headquarters in the early 1990s. The company was housed in a modest building in a Seattle industrial strip. Significantly, "the inimitable smell of burned kerosene was in the air: on the other side of the strip was Boeing Field, where every new Boeing jet was flight-tested."

Boeing at that time was dominated by "aeromen," the aircraft industry's version of car guys. They were the engineers who created the landmark Boeing 747.

But within a decade, Boeing moved its HQ to a skyscraper in Chicago, far from the smell of burning jet fuel. The rationale, according to Irving, was that Boeing had become "much more than a world supplier of airplanes; it was a major defense contractor with widely dispersed plants, and Chicago was a more central place from which to manage them. Seattle was just another cog."

The final step in downgrading Boeing's innovative engineering culture came in 2005, when Boeing passed over Mulally for CEO. Irving describes Mulally as "an alpha engineer and forceful salesman … a compelling leader esteemed by his peers."

The next year, Mulally left Boeing to take the CEO job at Ford. He joined a company that still had much of the structure of Jac Nasser-ism, the strategy of making Ford into "much more than" an automaker.

Some of Nasser's brand extensions were already gone. But Ford still had a bloated Nasser-era brand portfolio, including Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover.

Mulally wasted little time in shedding them, as well as Ford's stake in Mazda. He eventually closed Mercury.

Crucially, Mulally instilled a clear focus on making Ford brand vehicles world-class again. Reading the story of Boeing, it's not hard to see the source of Mulally's clarity of vision.

Click here for the Newsweek story.

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