All Articles Leadership "Ford Tough" culture and the transition from Mulally to Fields

“Ford Tough” culture and the transition from Mulally to Fields

3 min read


Alan Mulally’s plans to step down July 1 took Wall Street by surprise because they were anticipating his retirement at the end of the year. Ford rose out of the ashes because of Mulally’s leadership: he took bold steps, narrowed the company’s focus and rebuilt Ford’s culture.

Mulally restructured the company by defining a vision and then sticking with it. The organization’s culture foundation is fortified by three principles: One Team working together on One Plan for One Goal. Mulally likes to call this collaborative management style at Ford as the “One Ford Plan.”

Graphic courtesy Lori Ann Larocco

The One Ford plan illustrates the culture of Ford. Mulally and his team meet every week, and he is proud to say his team knows each other extremely well: “You know you can’t fool anybody. Without leadership sharing the same vision and communicating about how they would execute, the One Ford plan would cease to exist.”

As with any plan, it must be executed properly to be effective, and Mulally leads through his example. He is known for his unbelievable memory and ability to recall someone after meeting them just once. A Ford employee told me about being “blown away” by his memory when walking with him on the floor of the Detroit Auto Show. Mulally went out of his way to go say hello to a dealer he had met the year before, remembering his name and the dealership he ran. “It’s things like that that motivate you,” this employee told me. “He truly cares about the employees. Everyone is important to the overall plan.”

His successor, Mark Fields, is an advocate of One Ford. Fields was a participant in this culture revitalization which is why the succession from Mulally to Fields does not worry one of biggest leaders in the auto industry. “Mark has worked right alongside Alan to build a foundation and culture at Ford,” said Mike Jackson, chairman and CEO of AutoNation, the country’s — and Ford’s — largest dealer, “Fields has seen it all and done it all. He is absolutely ready to lead Ford!”

From the boardroom to the showroom, Mulally has always emphasized the symbiotic relationship Ford executives need to have with employees in order to succeed. Mulally said If workers don’t share the same vision and enthusiasm, they are let go or they leave on their own. At Ford, human capital is even more valuable than financial capital. The dynamics within an organization are key.

Remember the saying your friends are a reflection of you? So are the members within your organization. Mulally has the personality, passion, and drive and he looks for same in others because he knows that the success of his company depends on it. It’s for those very reasons why the transition from Mulally to Fields should be a smooth one.

Lori Ann LaRocco is the author of “Opportunity Knocking: Lessons from Business Leaders” (Agate Publishing, 2014), “Dynasties of the Sea: The Shipowners and Financiers Who Expanded the Era of Free Trade” (Marine Money International, 2012) and “Thriving in the New Economy: Lessons from Today’s Top Business Leaders” (Wiley, 2009). As senior talent producer at CNBC, LaRocco has the ear of some of the world’s biggest business minds. Prior to joining CNBC, she was an anchor, reporter and assignment editor in various local news markets around the country. Visit her blog.