Alan Mulally started out designing Boeing jets in 1969, and eventually made his mark as the president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Then he moved on to lead Ford Motor Co.’s revival as president and CEO, inspiring a book titled “American Icon.” Now the 70-year-old management guru has a new allegiance.
“I found a new love in Google,” Mulally told his fans on Wednesday evening, during a talk that kicked off this fall’s Albers Executive Speaker Series at Seattle University. “I’m a Googler now.”
Mulally left Ford in 2014 after a wildly successful eight-year run highlighted by a bold $23.6 billion gambit that involved mortgaging the company to finance its revival. During the great recession of 2008-2009, Ford was the only one of Detroit’s Big Three auto companies that didn’t ask for a government bailout.
Beyond the ledger books, Mulally is credited with reshaping Ford’s corporate culture to move from a history of infighting to a “working together” strategy – and that was the main theme of his talk. But during the question-and-answer session that followed, he couldn’t resist talking up his role on the board of directors for Google’s newly minted holding company, Alphabet.
“Google is the G in Alphabet,” he joked, “but we have a lot more letters now.”
In addition to the search-engine business, Google and Alphabet’s other “letters” have been involved projects ranging from driverless cars to drones, balloons and satellites. Those projects sound as if they’d be right up Mulally’s alley, and he confirmed that they’re among the reasons why Google’s his new love.
“A lot of the things that they’re doing, they’re all technology-based, and I spent my whole life on safe, efficient transportation and technology,” Mulally told GeekWire. “So for all those things they’re working on, it’s really fun to be there as a board member – because they’re going to change the world.”
Mulally declined to get into the specifics, saying that wouldn’t be appropriate due to his board role. But during his tenure at Ford, he talked about the promise as well as the challenges presented by driverless cars. “There will always be a person responsible for driving that car,” he told Wired in 2012.
Here are a few more tidbits from Mulally’s talk:
- He voiced concern that “we have not placed a priority in the United States recently on manufacturing,” and that’s leaving the country less competitive in the global marketplace. “The facts say that no country has been sustainable if you don’t have a really strong manufacturing base,” he said. “I see a change in that. I haven’t heard enough from the candidates who are running for office. They need to be saying more about that, and the economy.”
- A key part of Mulally’s management strategy is a weekly business plan review, or BPR. He said he even instituted a BPR with his five children every Sunday while they were growing up. (Passing out the allowances was always the last agenda item.) “We called it a family meeting, but now they know it was a business plan review. … Now what’s really funny is, they are all running their family meetings,” Mulally said.
- During his final months as Ford CEO, Mulally was rumored to be in the running to become Microsoft’s CEO – but he eventually batted down those rumors. The story passed along by insiders was that the chemistry between Mulally and Microsoft just wasn’t right. Mulally made no reference to that episode on Wednesday night, but after the talk, one of the audience members told him that it was a shame he didn’t end up leading Microsoft. “It’s OK,” Mulally said with a smile. “They’re just fine.”