The new chief executive of Ford Motor Co. was introduced to Detroit in a blue blazer, brown slacks and slightly scuffed black loafers. At 61, former Boeing executive Alan Mulally looked like a congenial college kid.
While he is known for doing the tough tasks needed to turn around a company, he also has a reputation that fits the cordial persona he showed the press.
But you have to worry.
Consider the history of outsiders coming into major positions at automakers. Think Ron Zarrella at General Motors. Consider the fate of most outside executives, even those with automotive experience, who have joined Ford Motor Co. Think Bunkie Knudsen. Think a slew of executives hired from outside by Jacques Nasser.
So one is tempted to wish Alan Mulally good luck because he'll need it.
Well, here are reasons why Mulally will succeed as Ford's CEO (yea). And here are reasons why he's doomed to fail (nay). You choose whether to be a naysayer or a yeasayer.
YEA. Boeing and Ford are remarkably similar: Both are big, public companies with a huge engineering component, massive investments, complex systems and an insatiable requirement for new hit products. As Mulally said when he was introduced to the press, the "parallelism" between Boeing and Ford is compelling.
NAY. The companies are as different as football and tennis. Ford is a family-controlled, consumer-products firm.
YEA. Sales to demanding commercial aircraft customers, such as airlines, and to individual consumers require "exactly the same principles," Mulally told us. Listen to the customer.
NAY. Just to break even, Ford Motor must win more than 6 million individual buyers every year. Those sales come through thousands of independent, franchised dealers. Boeing sells dozens of commercial aircraft a month, directly to the corporate customers.
YEA. Mulally improved Boeing sales against an aggressive competitor, Airbus.
NAY. Ford faces a couple dozen superb competitors.
YEA. Mulally has long experience and success in cutting tens of thousands of union jobs. There is no NAY. Ford needs to cut tens of thousands of union jobs.
YEA. Mulally is a proven team-builder and a mature, experienced force joining a company with recent turnaround plans that have proved inadequate. The second plan of the last eight months is about to be unveiled.
NAY. Ford is a notoriously nasty place for outsiders. High-level outsiders are seen to have stolen a job that rightfully belongs to a Ford lifer. The knives will be out. Except
YEA. Nobody at Ford expected to be named CEO. Bill Ford wasn't going to replace himself with any of the young Ford executives. So nobody loses here. If I'm Mark Fields or Mark Schulz, I figure, hey, the guy's 61. I can wait four years to run this place. Let's make this work.
YEA. Mulally's adoption of innovations for the 777 and the impending 787 are a perfect match for Ford's innovative history.
NAY. For all Ford's talk about innovation, it is not yet a leader.
NAY. Nobody from outside the auto industry has successfully taken over an automaker since the early days of the U.S. auto industry.
YEA. Two of the stars of the European auto industry are CEOs who didn't know a Honda from a Toyota. Jean-Martin Folz, direct from a French food company, turned around PSA/Peugeot-Citroen. And the Canadian-Italian lawyer Sergio Marchionne has done wonders at Fiat Auto just by imposing normal business discipline. Why not Mulally at Ford?
YEA OR NAY? Actually, you and I can't decide. The next few years will do that.
One thing is clear: America needs Alan Mulally to succeed. Ford's workers, retirees, suppliers, dealers and the millions of people who depend on them need Ford to succeed.
So yes, good luck. (And, yes, you're going to need it.)
You may e-mail Peter Brown at [email protected]