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What I learnt from Ford Ex-CEO Alan Mulally

24 January 2016 One Comment

Hi All,

Couple of weeks back I finished listening to the book – American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company! It is an awesome read and some of the messages in the book resonated well with me.  This post is not really a book review. It is just my notes so I can look back and reflect in the future.

Alan Mulally

  • Customer Focus: Alan Mulally would show up in the car showrooms and try to sell cars to understand customer needs and preferences. I think there is no excuse for not talking to your customers! The best way place to start managing a product or business is to speak to the customers.
  • Company / Product Understanding:
    1. Alan drove one car every day to understand the experience of the company’s products.
    2. When Alan asked for a list of products in the company’s portfolio, there was no single repository. So he took print outs of the cars and stuck them together on a paper to get all information in a single place. Again, please dog food your product!
  • Understanding of Car Industry
    1. Since Alan was from a different industry, he spent hours/days/weeks/months trying to understand everything about the industry
    2. He spoke to the dealers, the suppliers and even CEO of General Motors
    3. He spoke to sales analyst to understand how the industry numbers are estimated and what factors influenced them
    4. He read stuff written by consultants like McKinsey and also Goldman Sachs analyst to understand every naunce of the industry!
    5. He also spoke to experts ranging from industry journalist to leaders in auto industry forums.
    6. How many of us know our product inside out?
  • Nice people don’t end last
    1. He always had a smile even on the hardest of the days
    2. His Iron fist was actually enforced by his process called Business Process Review. More on that later
  • Talk about work-life balance!
    1. There is work and that was his life!
    2. The section on dealing with financial crisis just shows how much work was being done, 7 days a week. Every hour, every new data point meant that the scenarios had to be reconsidered. He along with his senior leadership team slogged it out!
  • Business Process Review Meetings
    • When Alan initiated BPR for the first time, he proposed that the following 10 rules to be followed in the meetings.
    • I felt that BPR is a very strong process and there are many good alternatives. What fascinates me was the ruthless doggedness with which he enforced the execution. This is a big lesson for young managers who are process driven. Many times, it can be distracting and sometimes plain boring to run through the list of 10-12 items. He did that week after week for 5+ years as CEO to get his results.
    • 10 rules stuck on the meeting room wall:
      • People first
      • Everyone is included
      • Compelling vision
      • Clear performance goals
      • One plan
      • Facts and data
      • Propose a plan, find a way attitude
      • Respect listen help and appreciate each other
      • Emotional Resilience
      • Trust the process
      • Have fun
    • 3 more informal rule:
      • No side discussion
      • No jokes at anyone else
      • No blackberries


  • I strongly believed that behind every awesome product, process or an organization there is someone with an eye for design. Alan’s own words reflected that. He said that running a company is a design job:
    1. have a point of view of the future
    2. Check if is it still relevant on an ongoing basis
    3. Build a plan
    4. relentlessly execute the plan


  • While I read the book some of the values which I could resonate with:
    1. Team Work
    2. Humility
    3. Laser Focus
    4. Calm & Composed
    5. Deal with unexpected
    6. Focus on working together
    7. Emphasis on data
    8. Dogged determination of not failing

I am looking for more such patterns and see how I can build on my own value system while I read other successful business leaders.

  • Organizational structure employed by Alan was a matrix organization – Matrix of key functions x key geographies. Heads of each of the function and heads of each of the geography directly reported to him and were a part of his SLT. I didn’t see any organizational charts as I just listened to the book. Not sure if the book mentions it.


  • When Alan was facing a huge set of challenges trying to understand the company and industry, he introspected and came up with a list of what he wants to achieve with the company. They are:
    • Alan legacy
    • Clear compelling vision going forward
    • Survive the perfect storm – commodities, oil, credit, co2, safety, UAW
    • Develop a profitable growth plan
    • Global products and product strategy
    • Skilled and motivated team
    • Reliable ongoing BPR process
    • A leader and Leadership team with one ford vision implementation

Let me know if you are interested in knowing more or discussing the details. We can chat offline. Have a good day!



One Comment »

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