America Needs a Turnaround Leader Like Alan Mulally | Don Brunell

Later this year, Alan Mulally will leave Ford Motor Company. On July 1, he turns the reins over to 53-year old Mark Fields, closing a storied career at Ford and Boeing.

Later this year, Alan Mulally will leave Ford Motor Company.  On July 1, he turns the reins over to 53-year old Mark Fields, closing a storied career at Ford and Boeing.

While he hasn’t divulged his plans, hopefully he will bring his talents to government.  Mulally inspires people with his confidence, humility and charisma. His turnaround of Ford has been spectacular.

Yes, government is different than the private sector, but anyone who can bring together people with diverse interests and varied backgrounds during a crisis has the ability to help our country.

We need to rebuild our national confidence and provide a solid road to recovery that puts people back to work.  People, especially young people, are losing hope. In April, the number of people under 25 in the workforce declined by 484,000.

Columnist George Will wrote:  “Unsurprisingly, almost one in three persons 18 to 34 are living with their parents, including 25 percent who have jobs.”  The Pew Research Center reports that Americans 25 to 32 — “millennials” — constitute the first group since World War II with higher unemployment or a greater portion living in poverty than their parents at this age.

When Mulally came to Ford in 2006, the company was projected to lose $17 billion dollars. Facing sliding profits and dwindling market share, Ford needed someone to inspire its managers, shareholders, workers and customers.  Simply, there was a need for bold action.

Mulally mortgaged the company, borrowing $23.6 billion.  It was “the largest home improvement loan” in history.  By 2012, the mortgage was repaid and, unlike GM and Chrysler, Ford took no government bailout.  Compare that to our mounting $17.534 trillion national debt with interest accruing at $16,115 per second.  There is no national plan to stem the borrowing, let alone pay off our debt.

Ford sold off several struggling brands and closed plants around the world, reducing the company’s workforce by 100,000 people. The only consolation to the job losses is there are 181,000 people still working at Ford.

In 2007 he struck a grand bargain with UAW President Ron Gettelfinger that traded new product commitments from Ford for competitive labor contracts. It was a high-stakes play that paid off last year when healthy profits allowed Ford to pay all the hourly factory workers a record profit-sharing bonus of about $8,800 each.

Prior to joining Ford, Mulally was president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Seattle.  While his most impressive engineering achievement at Boeing was the launching the first commercial airlines to feature a fully digitized dashboard, it was his business and civic leadership that drew attention in the Puget Sound area.

In 2001, Gov. Gary Locke tapped Mulally as one of the five leaders of the Competitiveness Council to improve Washington State’s struggling business climate.

Locke realized that to spur economic development Washington needed to reform the way it regulated and taxed businesses.  One of Council’s hallmark accomplishments was restructuring Washington’s unemployment system.  Those 2003 reforms made our state one of the few that did not have to borrow federal money to pay jobless benefits during the Great Recession.

Mulally’s success isn’t about the executives at the top, it’s about figuring out how to get every employee to understand the vision of the company, buy into the plan, and feel supported in their jobs.

Previously, if Ford employees stopped production, managers jumped down their throats.  Mulally says now managers ask, “What can we do to help you out?”

“If people aren’t optimistic, they’re not going to make the sacrifices and do the work required to turn things around,” Mulally concludes.

That’s what our nation needs:  Better management, inspiring leadership and a good jolt of optimism.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist.  He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

More in Business

Keep the holiday spirit all year long | Don Brunell

During the holidays, our thoughts naturally turn to giving — not just giving gifts, but donating our time and money to charities, disasters and community programs.

Remember 1993

Twenty-five years ago, business took a beating in Olympia. The swing to the left in the 1992 general election was swift and potent. It drove higher costs to employers and more government regulations.

Remembering Ed Carlson, Vietnam POW

Since last Veteran’s Day, Ken Burns’ in-depth documentary on the Vietnam War has aired. It is a powerful reminder of an unpopular war in which many “baby boomers” fought and died.

Rural prosperity essential to Washington

While Seattle is growing rapidly, our rural areas continue to struggle. They don’t have the corporate giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing creating jobs and economic opportunities. Farms are predominantly family-owned.

Amazon’s plan reminiscent Boeing’s Chicago move

Last year, Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates wrote about the similarities and differences between Boeing’s corporate office move to Chicago and Amazon’s plan for a second headquarters.

LiveLocal98022 meeting cancelled

Bob Green, the night’s speaker, notified the organization he couldn’t attend due to an illness.

Expanded Panama Canal among challenges for Washington Ports

The $5.4 billion spent to expand the Panama Canal is paying off for East Coast and Gulf of Mexico seaports; however, it is putting more pressure on the Northwest to remain competitive.

Players taking a knee hurting the NFL | Don Brunell

On a recent Saturday afternoon in Portland, a young woman stepped onto the playing field at the beginning of the University of Montana vs Portland State football game and started singing our national anthem. She immediately drew a blank on the words and briefly stopped, but as she started apologizing, the fans spontaneously took up the singing.

New metal collecting machine may clean up contaminated waters

There is a new machine being tested in Montana which could decontaminate toxic mine tailings while recovering valuable precious minerals for everyday use.

Workshop will focus on business, social media

All are invited to learn how social media can impact business and how it can be used to create a positive experience for customers.

Impact of Hirst decision must be address

In Washington, the legislative stalemate over permitting new household wells and the state’s construction budget has not only delayed needed funding for public projects, but triggered yet another salvo in the wider conflict over future supplies of fresh water for people, fish and farms.

Mitigate massive wildfire danger | Don Brunell

At last count firefighters were battling 82 major wildfires in 10 western states. The fires have already scorched 2,300 square miles of forests and range lands, dislocated thousands of people, and burned hundreds of homes and buildings.