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BACK TO:   AW Home  |   Weekly Features   |   Kevin A. Wilson
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Kevin A. Wilson
Consistency of Purpose

By KEVIN A. WILSON

AutoWeek | Updated: 01/18/07, 2:49 pm et
Alan Mulally left his job in the Boeing frying pan and leapt into the Ford fire as CEO in September. In the days preceding the Detroit show, he started talking about what he’d learned so far. Amy Wilson (no relation), in sister Crain publication Automotive News, wrote that Mulally was describing a “screwed-up culture” in which executives were afraid to answer “I don’t know” during meetings and asking for help was considered a sign of weakness.

We’ve all heard stories over the years about the company where a president could be fired with the words “I just don’t like you,” and the finance department—heirs to the Whiz Kids who helped the founder’s young grandson Henry Ford II salvage the company after WWII—treated good ideas like they were bad guys in a video game: shoot it down and hurry on to the next one. If the phrase “do unto others before they do unto you” wasn’t invented at Ford HQ, it found a good home there.

Mulally, even as he leads a desperate restructuring and pushes development of new product, is trying to replace that mantra with “there is no I in team.” It’s not just touchy-feely stuff, either. There’s no room for the distractions of political in-fighting and careerist maneuvers in a car company skating on such thin ice that it has to put up its trademarks and real estate as collateral for financing.

The same Ford-family cohort that Mulally got to sign off on that financing deal, however, is viewed as a problem by many. Reportedly, Ford’s family-controlled structure dissuaded Nissan/Renault’s Carlos Ghosn from pursuing a Ford partnership after the General Motor talks went sour.

“I’ve never seen a company with the lack of consistency of purpose as Ford,” Mulally told reporters. He stirred up buzz by visiting Toyota, seeking not so much to do business with the company as to learn something more about how the car industry works. “Consistency of purpose” might be the most cogent three-word explanation of what’s behind Toyota’s success. From the top execs down to the guys sweeping factory floors, everyone there knows the mission is to serve its customers
.

If he seeks to instill the same attitude at Ford, Mulally’s got his work cut out for him: It’s hard to make the customer king when you’re working for royalty and the court is made up of people who’ve been led to believe they’re vying for the crown.

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