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Ford CEO: 14 Lessons in Leadership & Marketing

February 13th, 2010 · 1 Comment · All Posts, GlenGilmore

Alan Mulally


“We are fighting for the soul of manufacturing. There is no reason we can’t compete with the best in the world.” Ford Motor Company CEO, Alan Mulally

With these words, Alan Mulally, dubbed “Ford’s Comeback Kid” by Fortune magazine, summed up his passion for success and his confidence in the resiliency of American ingenuity even in the worst of economic times.

Alan spoke these words during a charitable dinner, on February 5, 2010, in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The dinner was sponsored by a local Ford dealership, L.B. Smith, to benefit “The Second Mile,” a charity that offers a variety of services for at-risk children. About five-hundred people attended the event.

I had the privilege of attending the evening as a guest of the event organizer, fireball Anne D. Gallaher, a dear friend and business colleague, in the company of the great connector, Amy Howell, another dear friend and business colleague – a story of Twitter friends networking in real life, a story deserving of its own blog post at a later time!

You don’t need to know Alan’s bio to know that he is an icon of American industry. Unflappable. Charming. Extremely bright. A visionary. A leader in every right. What follows is a mix of lessons in leadership and marketing from a wonderful evening spent in the company of Alan Mulally.

Before we begin with the lessons, I should mention that through the course of this post, I’ll be referring to Mr. Mulally as “Alan.” Do I know him that well? Actually, I only met and chatted with him briefly during this event. Still, my sense is, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Lessons (And all by example!)

Mulally's Smile

1. Smile…genuinely smile.

The first thing you notice about Alan Mulally is his great smile, a genuine smile. It is the smile of man who enjoys people.

A genuine smile conveys warmth, openness, and confidence, all important traits in a leader who seeks to build a team and inspire others. It is a simple gesture that works wonders when it is present and genuine.

2. Be interested in others

Alan agreed to participate in a photo line at this event, a marathon “meet and greet” where a public figure agrees to have his photograph taken with a long line of well wishers. Every person or group of people that made its way to Alan, found him energized, asking questions about where they were from and what they did. He was no longer the center of attention: he made everyone he met the center of attention and they (ok, I, too!) loved it!

3. Be passionate

In every conversation, Alan Mulally made it clear that he was passionate about the future of his company, the excellence of his workers, and the promise of the future for his industry. He conveyed a sense that we still do live in a world where hard work and talent pay off. He insisted that one must not compromise in any small detail on the mission of making sure that one is building the best product possible. He noted that while others were pulling back in their operations, Ford was accelerating development while constantly testing the inventory it produced.

4. Make sure your customers have fun

I guess since I’m writing about marketing, I could have said, “Make sure that the customer experience is enjoyable.” That would’ve sounded more professional and businesslike….But it would not have captured as accurately part of what Alan Mulally had to say to the many members of the Ford family who were present at dinner. Alan’s words were: “Make it fun…Make it a little like you’re walking into an Apple store.” (You know, the store that sells the iPhone, iPad and other cool gadgets!)

5. Be approachable

Alan Mulally arrived at the event with an entourage, an envelope of blue suits that bespoke the presence of a blue-chip CEO. There was no mistaking that an industry captain was in the house.

It is common for leaders of all stripes and sizes to be surrounded by an entourage; it is less common for a leader to move beyond the entourage and become approachable. Alan Mulally is approachable. He made time for the local reporter. He made time for the garrulous guest who strode over to say hello. He didn’t have his entourage block approaches.

“Approachability” is the sort of demeanor that encourages subordinates to share their concerns and ideas, always a good thing for business leaders interested in keeping abreast of the real pulse of their company and keeping it moving forward.

At the conclusion of his remarks at this dinner, he opened the floor to questions. There was no screening of the questions or of those asking the questions beforehand.

6. Never lose the common touch

So what did this iconic captain of industry do on his way to the charity dinner at which he was being honored? He stopped by a local Ford dealership, discovered that a customer was about to complete the purchase of a Ford, and asked if he could help complete the sale. Imagine the buyer’s reaction when Alan introduced himself and asked the buyer if he had any questions! Talk about customer service!

7. Always take the customer’s call and complete the sale

Nothing can infuriate a client or customer more than an unreturned or late-returned phone call. When a cell phone rang in the middle of Alan’s remarks, Alan was quick to quip: “That’s ok, take the call, complete the sale,” a response that went over well with the scores of Ford salespeople and dealers who had come to hear their beloved leader speak.

8. Never forget where you came from

Many marveled at the fact that Alan accepted an invitation from a local Ford dealer to be feted at a charity dinner in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Speaking on this point, Alan noted that in accepting the invitation, he had thought of the many who had helped him along the way.

As an aside, what was particularly impressive was Alan’s determination to keep the date despite warnings of a blizzard – which did arrive and force his stay overnight. Equally impressive was the turn-out of nearly five-hundred attendees who also braved dire warnings of storm, a testament to the esteem so many have for Alan.

9. Make sure you have a great product and let people tell your story

“Make sure you have a great product and let people tell your story,” Alan said during his talk. The statement succinctly captures the key ingredients of business success, especially in the age of social media: you must first produce a great product and then encourage others tell your story.

Ford, under Mulally’s leadership, has concentrated both on building the best cars possible, while also inviting its customers to tell their story about their Ford vehicles in numerous forums, from their website, to Facebook, to Twitter. It exudes a confidence based on a confidence in the quality of their product and customer service.

Ford Twitter

10. Invest in Social Media

During his remarks, Alan declared, “Social media is the future.” (Some of us might add, “Social media is also the ‘now.’”) Expressing his sensitivity to the power of social media, he joked that he would be taking care in his remarks as he was aware that many in attendance would be twittering during his talk.

Ford’s prowess and investment in social media is legendary. Each automobile model get’s its own Twitter page. Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and blogs are all part of the Ford sales and customer service workforce.

11. If you’re not good at something that’s important to your business, find someone who is and let them run with it

Alan Mulally is clearly a man who gets the importance of social media….It might, however…ah…erhh…not be his strongest, personal suit. Though he has opened a Twitter account, http://Twitter.com/AlanMulally, he has not tweeted and does not follow anyone…Asked about it, he gave an “aw shucks” smile, shrug of the shoulders, accompanied by a pantomime of typing with two fingers….Alan, that’d work just fine!

Scott Monty

Even in the absence of what would be a colorful and engaging presence of Twitter from the man himself, Alan has entrusted Ford’s social media to Scott Monty (http://Twitter.com/ScottMonty), a man who serves his company well in the fast-paced world of social media. He maintains a strong Twitter presence, engaging the many who turn to him for answers and insights. He also makes himself available for a never-ending cycle of interviews in the social media sphere, giving Ford the transparency and engagement that reap reward in brand awareness and consumer loyalty.

12. Be gracious to your competitors – but don’t let up on the gas!

Asked about Toyota’s woes, Alan was gracious. He made a few kind remarks about the company.

His advice to companies in such circumstances? “Find the problem, fix it and learn from it.”

He concluded his remarks on the topic, however, with a smile, observing, “Oh, by the way, we do have a lot of good cars to sell…Ford…Ford…Ford…You’d look good in a Ford!…”

13. Be authentic

A brief time in Alan’s company tells you that he’s the real deal: an incredibly talented guy who is just being himself and telling it like it is, though with a great sense of vision.

During his talk, he commented on the “ubiquity” of information on the web and the consequent necessity of authenticity where so much is known by so many. It is an evolution and a revolution in information exchange that make authenticity an imperative for businesses that hope to earn and keep the loyalty of customers.

14. Do good

Alan noted that it’s great to get up each morning and know that you’re working for a company that’s “doing good.” Now he didn’t say, “doing well” – he meant “doing good,” as in doing social good.

Alan spoke about the point of doing social good in the context of Ford investing in greener cars. It is great to hear a captain of industry speak of doing social good as in integral part of job satisfaction! (Not to mention a compelling reason for people like me to consider Ford when it comes time to buy my next car.)

Editor’s note: Wish I could have joined you all in Hershey, but from Glen’s description of the event Alan Mulally of Ford is truly a Social CEO!

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