SAN FRANCISCO -- Ford CEO and auto industry superstar Alan Mulally was at this year's National Auto Dealers Association convention here. But you wouldn't have known it, some dealers said.
Mulally was at the annual make-meetings for Ford and Lincoln brands. But he didn't speak during the meetings. Not even an introduction, dealers at the meetings say.
He left it up to his team, executives such as Jim Farley and Ken Czubay, to do the presentation to dealers. Farley is Ford's group vice president of global marketing, sales and service. Czubay is vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service.
Some dealers told me they were disappointed that Mulally didn't even “give us a couple of words,” said one.
Dealers understood why Mulally was low key. They said he wanted to be a team player and let the team have the spotlight.
"As has been our practice in recent years, the make meetings are hosted by the senior leaders responsible for the business," Ford spokeswoman Karen Hampton said in an e-mail.
"Alan was honored to attend the meetings once again to support the team, the plan and our wonderful dealers. The feedback we received was pretty positive about the entire event."
That's all well and good. But the point is he is the team's leader.
Many dealers admire what Mulally has done for Ford Motor Co. since taking the helm, namely returning the company to profitability and improving Ford's product offering and quality rankings.
Many dealers wanted to experience his infectious enthusiasm and charisma for themselves.
Most dealers are inherently optimistic people, so when you repeatedly hear them expressing disappointment and dismay over Mulally's silence -- in an otherwise upbeat setting -- you wonder if this was an instance where Ford missed the essence of NADA, which is the place where dealers come to hear the corporate leaders.