Ford Motor Co.'s surprise executive realignment on Tuesday, Sept. 6, brought Boeing executive Alan Mulally in as CEO and president, taking over from Bill Ford, who remains chairman.
In an interview today, Ford and Mulally talked to Automotive News Editorial Director Peter Brown and Staff Reporter Amy Wilson. Here is an edited transcript of that conversation.
In the new structure, who reports to Bill, what direct reports and who is a direct report to Alan?
Bill Ford: It's pretty easy. I have one direct report, and Alan has everybody else.
How many is everybody else?
Ford: I haven't counted it up. He'll have (Mark) Fields (president, the Americas), (Mark) Schulz (president, international operations) and (Don) Leclair (CFO) and all the various staffs that report in.
Alan, you seemed to indicate yesterday that you were OK with the accelerated Way Forward plan as it's developing. Will you put your stamp on anything in that plan?
Mulally: Absolutely. I only can do what I can do. The most important thing is that Bill gave me an opportunity as soon as we decided to do that, to review it at a fundamental level where our focus was going to be. Clearly, (the focus is on) the North American operations and matching the capacity to demand, (looking at) productivity and quality and cost, and then (to) focus on the research and development investment to continue to fill the pipeline with customer-preferred cars and trucks. It's directionally absolutely right what Bill and his team has done. And I really look forward to understanding that in excruciating detail going forward here. And I know I'm going to have a lot of questions, and hopefully I'll add a lot of value to it.
How soon after next week's board meeting will we see the acceleration of Way Forward come out?
Ford: We haven't decided yet.
Alan, how long will you be mostly learning as opposed to aggressively managing or deciding things. There's always a period where you have to figure out how things work. How long do you think that period will be?
Mulally: I anticipate that will happen very, very fast. It's not so much that I need to wait to understand everything before giving out directions. The first contribution is pulling everybody together around the plan we have in place, the areas that need special attention. So I hope that I'll be adding value right away.
Will you be out talking to dealers anytime soon?
Mulally: I haven't talked to Bill and the team about that specific item. Although I know that in my conversation with Bill, I understand a lot better the importance of the dealership and how important it is to the distribution channel and also their ideas in the fundamental product development. So I anticipate I'll be doing that. My first priority, though, is to further clarify and focus and get everybody on our plan.
Ford: I think the dealers will love Alan once they get to know him. And I do plan on introducing Alan to our dealer body because I think it's something that not only will they enjoy meeting him, but I think he'll enjoy hearing their ideas. And I think it will be a very natural thing when he's with the dealers. That's an area I can clearly help Alan with and will do so.
Are you going to have a little road show for dealers or have them into Dearborn?
Ford: I really haven't thought that through yet. And I think that's going to be largely a function of what Alan decides his initial priorities are. And obviously the dealers are a very important part of our business. It's one where I feel like I have a very good rapport with our dealers, and it's an area I intend to stay involved with. But I also think that it's one that Alan will be a natural at. I was just with our dealers in Las Vegas several weeks ago. We had all our dealers in and I went to those meetings. It's something that I naturally understand the importance and frankly I love being with dealers.
Alan do you plan to bring any of your own people in, anybody you worked with at Boeing?
Mulally: I have no plan at the current moment.
Bill, yesterday you seemed very relaxed and jovial. Is this a weight lifted off your shoulders? How are you looking at this?
Bill: You know, it's interesting. Some people said, "Gee, are you relieved?" I look at it not so much personally, because I'll do whatever it takes for this company. But you correctly sensed that I'm really happy, and I'm happy for the Ford Motor Co. Not for me personally -- although I am, but that is not important. What's important is that this company is in a better position today than it was two days ago because we have a stronger team; we have an experienced leader now, experienced in the kind of difficulty that we face. And I made the decision that that's what we needed. As I said yesterday, it was a very, very short list of people who filled the bill in terms of what I was looking for. And Alan was at the top of that list. So for me, to be able to attract him to this company, yeah, I think you observed my sense of I'd say was satisfaction more than anything else.
Alan, we talked about the industry in Detroit particularly as a fairly insular place. And people always say the auto industry is different. A lot of outsiders from Ford who were brought in in the late '90s left or were driven out. Ron Zarrella didn't make it at General Motors. Do you have a concern about the long knives being out after you? Or is it simply a unique industry that is not so transferable?
Mulally: Absolutely not. And I might not really understand your question, but I've been closely associated with the automobile industry for my professional life at Boeing, too. And what I mean by that is that I'm also a disciple of the Toyota production system, which changed the world. And I'm also a disciple of the Ford production system. And I can remember when I invited Lew Veraldi and the original Team Taurus, when they were designing the first Taurus, and compared notes on technology, design, the customer-desired features of production and manufacturing plan. And we incorporated a lot of those ideas into the creation of the Boeing 777 airplane.
So I think I really know that the processes and the concept of design and manufacturing are very, very transferable. We actually have a moving line now, like the Ford assembly line, for our 737, and our 777 airplanes. Can you imagine that? Here's an airplane with 4 million parts and we have a moving line that we copied from Ford and the other great manufacturing companies. And so I just feel like if we focus on Bill's vision of making the very best cars and trucks and doing it with the highest quality and the most-efficient processes, that that will pull everybody together. It won't be divisive. It won't be an insider-outsider thing. It will be winning in the marketplace and improving cars and trucks for everybody.
What's the difference, Alan, between selling 5 million things a year to consumers and however many hundreds or thousands of things a year to businesses?
Mulally: Exactly the same principals. And when I say that what I'm thinking about is when you create any product and services, you have to have a clear vision and a picture of the world and where it's going and what will have value. And the world continues to change and, just like the current issue with energy prices and commodity prices supporting the high growth rates around the world, it's so important that we deal with that and we incorporate the value that people are looking for, the functionality, the value, that we incorporate that in our products and services that we developed. And I don't see any difference in that whether it's an automobile or whether it's an airplane.
You may e-mail Peter Brown at [email protected]
You may e-mail Amy Wilson at [email protected]