Where is the leadership?
The Ford Motor Company has come upon hard times. I may no longer qualify as a Grist brokeass, but I am still one at heart, and empathize with those thirty-odd thousand people who have lost or will soon lose their jobs. I have owned six cars in my life. Four of them were Pintos. Ford is a sinking ship and its captain was the first one to jump.
A new pod leader has landed and his name is Alan Mulally. Alan, having been passed over multiple times for the CEO position at Boeing, jumped at the chance to be the head honcho somewhere else. His first big decision was to stick the old Taurus logo on the Ford 500 Sedan. Here’s a video where he takes credit for the big idea. It seems to me that any time he gets in front of a camera, or a superior, he looks like he is about to burst out into merry, enthusiastic laughter, or possibly a motivational song, but just manages to contain himself. However, according to this article it may not have been entirely his idea:
[blah, blah] kicked the idea of a reincarnation up the ladder to [blah,blah] the marketing group vice president, and [blah,blah], president of Ford North America. The trio took it to Mulally, who gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
This is how things are done in huge bureaucracies. It is theoretically possible that the low man on the totem pole hatched the whole idea specifically to get Mulally’s attention (and a promotion), which explains in a nutshell what is wrong with America’s car industry (and maybe our entire political system): leadership. Yes-men have filled the last available spots on the organization charts.
I know from experience that this logo-switching game is unlikely to work. I once found a chromed Volvo logo lying on the road and mounted it in place of the Pinto logo on my car. Every time I got another Pinto, I would remove the Volvo logo from the old one and stick it on the new one. Although many people were humored, few were fooled.
So, how’s Ford doing under Alan’s leadership?
After spending time in the Ford Edge HySeries, we don’t know whether we should give Ford a congratulatory pat on its collective shoulder or a smack upside its big, thick skull.
An engineering marvel it isn’t. Weighing one-and-a-quarter-tons more than a Prius, it will go 25 miles on its batteries and take 12 hours to recharge. With a hydrogen bomb on board, you can go a whopping 225 miles. It will never be built.
I can’t say that Alan knows me, although we did cross paths many times at Boeing. I remember the first time clearly. About two decades ago, I was hard at work at a computer, building a three dimensional solid model of a wing-to-body fitting when I became aware of someone standing behind me. I turned around and said something like, “Hi, what can I do for you?” The guy said, “Do you know who I am?” Not one to pour over the latest organization charts, I had no idea who this egotistical ass was so I said, “No, should I?” It was Mulally.
The next encounter occurred when I hit the close button on an elevator just as Alan was running to catch it. Hey, I was in a hurry. He glared at me as the gap between the doors narrowed. I took the stairs the rest of the day.
Another time I was in a meeting with him. I had told my boss what we needed, my boss told his boss, his boss told his, and on it went until someone finally told Alan. Alan then proceeded to literally cuss out the peon who was doing the presentation (the peon’s boss having wisely delegated the responsibility of giving said presentation).
There’s one more. I worked with a woman engineer who liked to paste pictures of Alan from the Boeing News onto cardboard and cut around them to create stand-up action figures, which she would place on top of her computer. Alan came by with a couple of other big-wigs to see them one night when I was working late. They picked them up and passed them around, laughing and slapping each other on the back. I told her the next day what had happened and she said, “Cool, maybe I’ll finally get a raise.”