Minutes with Alan Mulally

Minutes with Alan Mulally image

Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Brent Co | posted May 15, 2013 18:32

There we were, on the Bangkok International Motor Show floor, eagerly awaiting what more it was that Ford has in store for us. We already saw the Ford EcoSport the day before, so that was pretty much in the bag.

Amidst jostling for space in between all the other media from all the countries in attendance, over to my left stood a very familiar man. We’ve seen him in the papers, in magazines, on websites and on TV, but he wasn’t an actor, a politician, a famous athlete nor an evangelist.

He was Alan Mulally, Ford Motor Company’s President and CEO.

Hmmm… rock star seems about right.

Mulally strides onto the stage. He’s smiling. He’s waving. People are clapping. It was an entrance worthy of presidents of a country, not a CEO of a company. Why is that?

About 5 years ago, the U.S. auto industry was in tatters, as the financial crisis had a field day with the big three brands: Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford. Mulally was only two years in, after being hired from Boeing by Bill Ford to be his successor to the post as head of the blue oval. The new CEO immediately began work at making Ford profitable again.

He sold Ford’s luxuries with Jaguar and Land Rover finding a new home with Tata Motors; likewise with Aston Martin and Volvo. More recently, they reduced their stake in Mazda. These sales of their other auto brands, along with other cost cutting measures that included selling off the company’s private jets (a luxury afforded by CEOs), meant Ford was the only one out of the three to avoid being bailed out by the U.S. government and the taxpayers. Ford’s CEO even promised to have his salary cut to just $1 if Ford received and used funds from the U.S. government.

Alan Mulally’s early leadership of the Ford Motor Company -along with his signature red tie- cemented his reputation as the man who whould change the fortune of Ford.

Back to the present (and with a videographer’s huge camera beside my ear) Mulally delivers the his presentation. He’s a pro, and instantly warms the press in attendance. He welcomes the EcoSport that we saw the day before, and welcomes the refreshed Fiesta with the new award-winning 1.0L EcoBoost turbo engine. Kudos to his team on keeping secrets; we didn’t see the EcoBoost Fiesta coming at all.

Mulally and company

And then he stood by the cars, along with Ford ASEAN President Matt Bradley and the executives of Ford Thailand, for the mandatory photo op. Their companies pay people to organize parts like these photo ops for the CEOs, but it seems that Mulally was the one who was leading his guys, making sure that every photographer in every direction had a photo of all of them looking at the camera and not every which way.

After a while, we sit down at the press area to have a few moments with Alan Mulally. He walked in and immediately began shaking hands, telling light jokes and high-fiving us. Somehow, I don’t see Dieter Zetsche, Luca Di Montezemolo or Akio Toyoda doing the same.

With the introductions done, we got to work, and asked Mulally about the future of the company as well as the products to come, like this EcoSport.

“This is going to be a really neat thing to see how fast the EcoSport catches on,” said Mulally. “I think it’s gonna be fantastic. The versatility, the fuel efficiency, you need it for work, you can work for play, it’s going to be the urban SUV of choice.”

The Ford EcoSport traces its origins to South America; Brazil, to be exact. Over there they love the EcoSport, surpassing the 700,000 unit mark since it went on sale in 2004. As expected, the EcoSport is part of the OneFord Plan, a mantra that Mulally himself instituted in the company.

“Here’s the OneFord Plan. From Ford -over time depending on what the market is- that from a Fiesta all the way up to an F-Series, you’re gonna be able to get that from Ford,” said Mulally. “Now all the markets will decide how fast that goes, but look how fast we can move.”

He’s right. Since 2010, Ford’s ASEAN operations has introduced the key models they need to revitalize their brand in the region. It started with the Fiesta subcompact hatch and sedan three years ago, setting the market for what customers can expect for their money. The Fiesta was followed suit by the Ranger, also changing the game that pick-up truck can deliver much more than just the goods; no pun intended. Most recently in 2012 Ford let the Focus off its leash, and offers enough technology for the iOS/Android generation. And now the EcoSport is waiting in the wings, ready to continue an almost relentless charge by the blue oval brand.

“Whether you want a sedan, a four door, a five door, a wagon, whether you want a small SUV, what you’re gonna be able to get from Ford is the vehicle that you want and because we have the scale worldwide, we’re gonna be able to get it to you more affordably,” said Mulally. “This is a transformation of all time at Ford.”

“We live to make the vehicles that people love and want and value. You’re gonna see Ford continue to invest more, to spend more time, to really understand what the customers want in Asia Pacific.”

“We’re very excited. Asia Pacific rocks!” exclaimed the CEO.

We couldn’t agree more… yet the man in the red tie promised even more.

“The number one reason to buy a vehicle now worldwide is fuel economy,” said the Ford CEO. “You are going to see Ford continue to absolutely lead, not only on quality and safety and smart designs like SYNC, but also on powertrain technologies and 6-speed, 7-speed and 8-speed transmissions.”

“We got a lot of room to improve the internal combustion engine,” said the Ford CEO. “Whether it’s petrol or whether it’s diesel, I think the next technology will be continuing to have alternative fuels whether biomass or whether we move to hydrogen gas. The third will be electrification, and we are the leader worldwide in electrified vehicles. You can get a hybrid, you can get a plug in hybrid, you can get an all electric, but the thing that is going to drive is making an improvement in the cost and the weight of the batteries.”

Such is the way in Ford now, as the company is undertaking many new projects to further their technologies. Mulally and his team are getting the right mix of driven people to transform Ford into a highly dynamic, highly progressive organization from the Ford we saw 10 years ago. It shows in the products they carry, and it shows in the numbers they now sell.

A colleague then asked Mulally what his favorite Ford was, to which he answered:

“I try not to have favorites, but you always have favorites. So here are my favorites at Ford. It starts out with the Fiesta, then the Focus, then the Fusion, and the Mondeo. And also that moves into the Taurus -I love the Taurus- and then the Escape and the Edge, of course then the Flex, it’s really fantastic. Of course the Explorer, it’s sales are up 180% and that’s fantastic. The Expedition is great if you got a lot of people and the equipment to take. Then you move into the Ranger; the Ranger is like, world-class. Then if you need an F-Series, there’s the F-150, -250, -350, -450; you can live in it, you can pull your house behind it simultaneously. And then you got the Transit and also the E-Series.”

“That family of vehicles now serves the entire world market… those are my favorites.”

On that note and amidst the laughter, we all shook hands with the man in the red tie, but he said we should all have a photo together. We gather up in front of the photo wall but the Ford CEO asked us to come closer as he had something to say.

“Guys, I’ve been all around the world, but it really is more fun in the Philippines.” concluded Alan Mulally, Ford Motor Company President and CEO.