Does Ford Still Need Alan Mulally?


The final countdown is fast approaching for Microsoft to announce its successor to CEO Steve Ballmer and the speculation is intense.  While Ford CEO Alan Mulally seems to be most experienced candidate and a proven turnaround leader, the big concern throughout industry is, “Can Ford succeed without Mulally?”

Alan Mulally has done a fabulous job at Ford.  Not only did he weld together a high-one_ford_sm_extperformance management team and institute focus and discipline, he made the tough and risky decisions to borrow against their brand equity and sell non-core brands like Volvo, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover.  He also reshaped the culture.  The old Ford culture of micromanaging by the numbers, caustic criticism and demeaning dress-downs for poor performance has been replaced with openness, transparency, cross-functional alignment and support, and top to bottom accountability.  This new Ford is firing on all cylinders.

By setting clear expectations, treating people with respect and putting in place the policies and work processes that foster fast and accountable decision-making at all levels, Mulally and the senior leadership team at Ford have put in place a solid strategy, supported by a high-performance culture, that is ready for the future.

But the success of Ford shouldn’t be seen as the result of a “rock star” CEO or a single-handed effort.  Mulally early on began to recruit and align his leadership team.  And even long-time Ford executives like Lewis Booth and John Fleming learned quickly the value of this new culture and its importance to the execution of the new One Ford strategy. And up-and-comers like Mark Fields enthusiastically adopted the Mulally approach to culture and leadership.

Mulally has done more than just improved the Ford share price and balance sheet.  He has put in place a new culture.  A strong culture is greater than the CEO or any executive.  A strong culture is not driven by one person, but is adopted by many as “the way we do business and treat each other”.  Mulally helped codify and embed the new One Ford culture, but he is not the culture!

One of the great failings of many large corporations is that they micromanage people and decision-making, robbing emerging and aspiring leaders of the one thing they need most, the experience of making decisions and being accountable.  It is time for the Ford Board of Directors, and the business press, to understand that Mulally is not Ford.  Ford is all the senior leaders working together under a clear strategy, open transparency and a culture of support and teamwork.  Now is the perfect time for Allan Mulally to step out and let the new leaders lead.

And Microsoft could certainly benefit from the Mulally approach to culture building!

John R Childress

Author, LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, in paperback and eBook format on Amazon and Kindle.

About johnrchildress

John Childress is 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 or
This entry was posted in corporate culture, John R Childress, leadership, strategy execution and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s