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-performance 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.