“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” John F. Kennedy
I must admit, even at my advanced age I still have heroes. My early days heroes (the Lone Ranger, Audie Murphy, Harmon Killebrew, Sandy Kolfax, Joe Nameth) have over the years been replaced with those I have met on my business travels and in my life as a consultant to CEOs. I don’t naturally gravitate towards the flashy, larger than life business personas, but instead tend to admire the more quiet, in-the-background leaders who get the job done and develop people along the way, without a lot of fanfare.
One of my business and leadership heroes for the past 15 years has been Lewis Booth, most recently Executive Vice President and CFO for Ford Motor Company (you can review Lewis’s career here). Lewis recently announced his retirement, at age 63 and most of the world knows very little about this man whom I consider a true leader. So I decided to write one of my Profiles in Leadership blogs on Lewis Booth.
I first met Lewis in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1997 when he took over the CEO role at SAMCOR (South African Motor Corporation) which assembled Ford and Mazda vehicles in South Africa (Ford owned 45% of the venture). It was Lewis’s first CEO job and he had landed in a situation of poor quality, undisciplined management, low expectations of an undereducated workforce, and stiff competition from Asian imports.
My firm, and one of my best consultants, John Clayton, landed the job of helping Lewis build an aligned management team and a high-performance culture at SAMCOR. We had a great time and Lewis was an outstanding leader, being both firm, direct and supportive with his new team. He even supported and reinforced our “experiential approach” of role playing, business games and direct face-to-face feedback to help build a cohesive and aligned executive team. He also helped us move the culture change process down into the organisation, using their own staff as the workshop facilitators.
After South Africa our paths crossed again in late 2003 when Lewis, after successfully turning around Mazda in Japan and heading up Asia for Ford, landed in Cologne, Germany, headquarters of Ford of Europe, as the new CEO. At that time Ford of Europe was a $24 Billion organisation losing $1.5 B and also losing market share, again to Asian imports. This time with Hyundai and Kia added to the usual suspects, Toyota and Nissan.
Here was the situation he walked in to:
- $24 B European division of Ford, 60,000 employees
- 14 CEOs in 22 years
- Heavy silo culture; poor teamwork at top
- Significant losses in revenue and market share
- Elevated Quality problems (TGWPT = things gone wrong per thousand vehicles)
- Aggressive onslaught of Asian competition into Europe
Again I had the good fortune to be hired by Lewis to assist in building an aligned senior team and developing a strategy execution plan. And again we got results and had great fun. One of the hallmarks of Lewis’ leadership style is his willingness to let his hair down at group dinners. We told jokes and laughed until late into the evenings on many an occasion. But the job got done, thanks to Lewis and his steely optimism and fact-based decision style. The first year the company broke even and the second year wound up with a profit of $1B and growing market share.
When Alan Mulally, the new CEO of Ford brought in by the Board of Directors to rescue the company in late 2006 needed a great CFO for his right-hand man, he reached out to Lewis Booth in 2008. Previously Lewis had taken on the job of selling off the companies in the Ford Luxury Auto Group of Land Rover, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Volvo, all bought by former Ford CEOs over the years.
Lewis and Alan are what I call a “dream team” and together they have brought focus, discipline and a One Team Culture to Ford, the only one of the big three auto companies not to accept federal bailout money from the US Government. I believe Lewis and his finance team are responsible for keeping Ford liquid during the early years of the global financial crash and his leadership during their weekly business review meetings was important in developing a new discipline of “performance and delivery” at Ford.
I doubt if I will cross paths with Lewis Booth again but I will never forget the lessons I learned watching him lead teams during difficult times, and make friends along the way.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” ~John Quincy Adams
Tight Lines . . .