Profiles in Leadership . . . Lewis Booth

“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 . . .

John R. Childress

john@johnrchildress.com

About johnrchildress

John Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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