ATW Editor's Blog

Why Mulally’s signature management style transitioned from planes to automobiles


Alan Mulally, the infectiously engaging and eternally optimistic former CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, has announced his forthcoming retirement from Ford Motor Co., which he has led since leaving Boeing in 2006.

The announcement has prompted an outpouring of tributes from many major publications, including Forbes, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Mulally undoubtedly deserves the praise. He turned around Ford, without resorting to a government bailout, against all the odds, and his management style is admired and copied worldwide.

But while Mulally’s management style can be copied, his love for people, huge smile and joy for his work and team are much harder to replicate.  He remembers names, always has a smile, is boundless in his passion and energy and makes people feel comfortable. That personality, packaged with genius and motivational flare, is rare.  Richard Branson and Herb Kelleher come to mind.

At Boeing, of course, Mulally was Mr. 777 and he championed the growth of airline point-to-point routes against Airbus’ promotion of hub-to-hub networks to support its A380 concept. On balance, Mulally’s vision was the right one.

In a video clip on the WSJ about his management style and practices at Ford, he could just as easily be talking about aircraft manufacturing and marketing. The same themes are there as those that brought success when he was at BCA: one team; include suppliers; don’t hide problems; laser focus on the market, manufacturing processes and quality; build a complete family of products that are best-in-class; have a compelling vision.

In the video, he is asked what keeps him awake at night. His reply is that he doesn’t stay up at night worrying about things because there’s nothing that isn’t already on the list. His advice to his team: “Get some sleep at night because we need everyone’s energy and enthusiasm and we’re going to be there tomorrow to help each other.”

And during executive meetings, everyone has to listen and give their full attention; if anyone pulls out a mobile device or starts a side conversation, the meeting is stopped and everyone looks at the offender. “It’s amazing how it doesn’t happen again, he says with a smile.

Here’s the video link.!3D572065-E7DE-474

It will be interesting to see where Mulally goes next. Wherever it is, and whatever the product, they will benefit from his laser focus, energy and, indeed, that smile.

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