Ford Motor promised bold moves — and hiring a CEO with no auto industry experience certainly qualifies.
Alan Mulally, a 37-year veteran of the airline business, takes over CEO duties from Bill Ford at a pivotal time for the struggling auto maker.
Mulally is credited with helping pull off a successful recovery for Boeing, but he is a neophyte when it comes to the auto industry.
In August, the former Boeing executive was quoted as saying it is possible to apply automotive assembly line manufacturing techniques to the airline industry. Now he is poised to apply his airline industry turnaround tactics to a foundering Ford.
The learning curve he faces is as daunting as the maiden flight of a new plane.
He leaves an industry where individual sales are huge transactions, long in the making, with millions changing hands for a handful of units (Boeing sold about 250 aircraft last year). The buyers are few and powerful and product has a 20-year lifecycle.
In his new job, Mulally must tap into the psyche of an industry that sold more than 17 million units in the U.S. alone last year.
The product must appeal to the everyman. Marketing and sales decisions must play to all demographics and product cycles are only about four years.
Short-term decisions must be made such as whether to offer a new incentive over a long weekend.
Long-term decisions on future product require a CEO-eye's view of the industry when lower-ranked advisors are personally attached to their ideas and projects.
“I can't wait to become a car guy,” Mulally said in his first press conference in Dearborn, expressing equal enthusiasm for driving a Ford as well.
The Lexus he owned coming into the job represents one of the reasons he cannot take time to get up to speed.
Toyota (including Lexus) sales in the U.S. passed Ford for the first time in July to rank, temporarily, as the No.2 auto maker.
Ford sales and profits continue to fall, necessitating an acceleration of the Way Forward restructuring plan for North America. Details of further cuts dominated Mulally's first board meeting — truly baptism by fire.
Mulally comes across, at first blush, as an intelligent engineer, experienced businessman and team player.
But the reality is, he starts his career at Ford as a square peg in a round hole.