Manufacturing Success: Alan Mulally’s way
By Zulfiqar Chaudhry
Personalities die, but principles live. When material things corrode and bodies disintegrate, principles live. When Prophets, Saints, and Kings die, principles live. When countries fall, principles live. Principles are eternal.
In this article, we will discuss the principles that anybody can follow to achieve greatness. Unfortunately, we get fixated on personalities, make them our Idols, only to discover later (either here or in the Hereafter) that we were mistaken, nay, rather Mushriks.
Perhaps, we misunderstood Iqbal’s message. Actually, we have made him an Idol too! While he incurred the wrath of Mullahs in propagating eternal principles, we have been waiting for personalities and Prophets to deliver us from our intractable problems. He wanted to see the Eemaan of Ibrahim, the love of Musa, and the qualities of Jesus in us, while we have been for Messiah to show up and rescue us.
But if the faith of Abraham there, once again, is born,
Where leaps this flame, flowers will bloom, and laugh its blaze to scorn
Not a single one among you is longing for houris
The Effulgence of 'Tur' exists but there is no Moses
Does the expected mean Jesus of Nazareth?
Or a Renewer, endowed with the attributes of the Son of Mary?
Pakistan has been waiting for the Messiah too. She needs him to solve her poverty, illiteracy, electricity, water, inept rulers, and corruption problems. Like Pakistan, Ford Motor Company was no different. Since Mr Henry Ford, she also has been looking for a Messiah to save her from nepotism, family feuds, hostile competitors, Union demands, tarnished brand name, and bankruptcy problems. The difference between Pakistan and Ford Motors is that the latter found a Messiah, while the former is still looking for one.
Alan Mulally (AM) was that figurative Messiah for Ford that Mr Jinnah was for Pakistan. He saved the Ford Motor company from itself, from its competitors, from its Union, and from the Government. How did he do it? He did it by following certain principles. His method was simple and effective. He used this method to first save Boeing and later, when he was passed over for the top job at Boeing, Ford Motor Company. Interestingly, this method can be employed by individuals, families, companies, and countries to achieve desirable results. In few words, his method rested on principles, not on politics, personal preferences, or personalities. Anyone who follows these principles will achieve the same kind of success. Below is a synopsis of his life and strategy, taken from the book, American Icon, by Bryce G. Hoffman
As W. Edward Deming, the savior of Japanese economy after WWII, said, “In God we trust; all others bring data.” AM also used data to build a matrix organization. He ordained weekly meetings, called BPR (Business Plan Review), which every head of department was expected to attend. These meeting were mandatory, held at the same time, and at the same place. If any executive was traveling, he was expected to call in and attend the meeting remotely, via conference call. All top executives were expected to report their progress, in a standard format, towards company’s turn-around goals. They could not ask their subordinates to present the data; they themselves had to know the data and present it in a color coded fashion. Green meant the project was on track or ahead of schedule; yellow meant potential issues or concerns; while red meant behind schedule or off plan. Any change in status would be reflected by two-color box, divided by a diagonal line—the top color showing what it was the previous week, and the bottom color showing what it was now. Color coding tracked what had changed from the previous meeting and where potential problems existed. Discussion in these meetings was based on data representing business realities, not politics or personalities.
There were some personalities, whose egos were either too big to attend these mandatory meetings, or their entitlement mentality so ingrained to learn the details of the business. So, they protested vehemently to Bill Ford about these weekly meetings and its format. They thought they were treated as elementary school children: attendance was mandatory and color coding the norm. But AM did not budge. He wanted to reign in the chaos and standardize the process. He wanted everyone to understand the health of his company with just one glance at the color-coded charts, which were like the vital signs of a patient.
Mark Shulz, who was the VP of Ford’s international operations, and third generation Ford employee, felt he was above these meetings. He complained to Bill Ford, played his entitlement and loyalty card, but when Mr Ford did not support him, he left the company. This gave a loud and clear message to other executives that you either get on board with the new AM system, or find yourself another employer. Again methods (i.e., principles) over personalities.
AM wanted direct contact with his top executives. He did not want additional layers of bureaucracy between himself and his top executives. So, before he even joined Ford, he asked that the position of Chief-of-Staff be eliminated. But this position was occupied by none other than Bill Ford’s brother-in-law: Steve Hamp. However, AM could not get along with Mr Hamp’s negativity about Ford’s future. Being true to his ideals of direct contact with his team and his customers, AM finally carried the day, and Bill Ford had to let his brother-in-law go in the interest of saving his company.
Another advantage of these color-coded charts was that it highlighted current and future areas of trouble. This allowed him and his team to make contingency “what if” plans. For example, “what if” gas prices soared, inflation set in, economy collapsed, people’s car preferences changed (from gas-guzzling SUVs to electric cars), raw material prices increased, dealers started hating Ford cars, workers went on strike, or health care cost sky-rocketed? Interesting, all of these things happened in AM’s tenure! But AM’s team had already thought of and addressed these issues before “the storm” hit US economy in 2008. AM and his financial team had secured $23 billion in loans, when loans were easier to get, before the financial markets dried up. This was such a bold move that his competitor, GM CEO, Rick Wagnor, asked him bluntly “are you crazy?” History proved who was crazy and who was wise, as both GM and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy in 2009, while Ford weathered “the storm” without bankruptcy. Surely, “the time to repair a roof is when the sun is shining” (John F. Kennedy).
To have a pulse on the health of any enterprise, leaders must be in the trenches with the troops. (Remember our beloved Prophet SWA literally in the trenches with his companions during Ghazwa-e- Khandak).
He not only ate with rank-and-file employees in the common cafeteria, AM actually made time to sell cars with other sales people. It was common to see him holding his tray in a line, with other employees, and asking questions like, “What do think we can do to improve things around here?” This not only boosted the morale of the front line workers, but also gave AM first-hand knowledge what the customers were thinking. For example, he realized immediately that there were simply too many brands to choose from and once customers bought these cars, they kept breaking down. His mother also confirmed his impression. One day, when he called to speak to his mother (the habit he never neglected), his mother “complained that the Dodge van…kept breaking down. AM asked the local Ford dealer to meet with his mother…to pick out a new E-Series van. But she was soon back on the phone complaining that there were too many choices—185 to be exact, and that was not counting all the different colors and upholstery options. AM thought that was ridiculous…” (p 198). He moved swiftly: first he made the chart of all the available types and brands of cars, then he consolidated them into a handfull of options. He even sold non-Ford brands (like Jaguar, Land-Rover, Volvo) to others. Then he hired a quiet, but exceptionally competent engineer, who was not involved in any politicking for high position, to head quality control for all Ford Motors internationally. Later, the same engineer led a team that came up with a special engine that produced more power, and burned less fuel.
AM was the first one to arrive at the office and the last one to leave. Once his CFO decided to beat him coming to office in the morning; so he woke up especially early and arrived at the office at 5:30am. He found AM already working in his office. But AM also exercised regularly by playing tennis. As a young man, he played gymnastics; in fact, he was so good that he came second in his State tournament.
AM was born in Kansas. He always wanted to be an astronaut, but "color blindness" dampened that dream. He changed his plans to becoming an aeronautical engineer. At an early age, he learned the value of hard work, money, and credit. He mowed people's lawn, delivered newspapers from house to house. Once he had some capital, he bought a bike on credit, which he finally paid from his own earnings; later he upgraded his bike to a motorcycle; so he could cover more area; later he built a trailer for the motor bike, so he could tow his equipment. To pay for college, he worked at a convenience store at night. The owner of the business told him that “he would never amount to anything…but his professors were more encouraging. His graduate adviser, Jan Roskam, thought that AM was a born leader with a knack for getting people to work together.” (p 59). With his impressive success at Boeing and later at Ford, we now know who was correct.
But was it the charisma and the talent of AM that made him great, as if he were the Messiah sent down to save Boeing and at Ford, or were it the eternal principles of hard work, transparency, honesty, foresight, accountability, fairness, team work, and humility that made the difference?
Read again the lesson of truth, of justice and valour!
You will be asked to do the work of taking on responsibility for the world
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