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Ford Sustainability

The well known management consulting organization McKinsey posted an interview with Bill Ford Jr on his dedication to Sustainability and the efforts at Ford Motor Company.  Having spent six years at Ford (2002-2008) in a senior management role and passionate about sustainable business myself, I was interested to see what Bill said.

I had three reactions:

1. Mr. Ford is a rational and well meaning man and indeed had a passion for sustainability throughout his life.  He has voiced this during times when it was very unpopular, as he indicates in the interview.  He can be legitimately congratulated for his position and interest.

2. However, Mr. Ford was not very successful in achieving excellence in sustainability during his career at Ford.  Under his leadership the Company nearly went out of business and would have if Bill had not been convinced to bring in a new leader.  He was lucky (or wise?) enough to get a great one,  in Alan Mulally.  He does an accurate job describing Alan in the interview:

Bill Ford: Alan has done a fantastic job. His leadership style is the best I’ve ever seen. He’s taken a global, previously not-well-integrated company and turned it into one that runs off a universal set of metrics. It’s now a company where people aren’t penalized for raising an issue; in fact, far from it. He asks people to raise issues, and then he asks how we can help, how we can help this person solve that problem. And then the problem is reviewed every week, so it’s not going to fall off the table; there’s no place to hide. But there’s also no shame in saying you’ve got an issue. That was something Alan ran across when he got here—no one wanted to raise an issue. It’s been great for the rest of the management team to learn from him, as well. He’s rallied the organization to the common plan.

3. This points out the principle of Excellence by Design. Bill Ford wanted sustainability, but he never made the changes, or designed the Ford Motor Company, to achieve it.  I am not criticizing Bill, just reflecting that he was unable to drive the true changes needed.  Once Alan Mulally arrived (a time during which I was employed at Ford and able to observe the effects from a senior management point of view) he changed how Ford operated.  Consistency of management reviews, focus on real data, willingness to raise issues and collaboratively address them, and perhaps most of all, work as One Ford.  He essentially redesigned Ford for the new reality. His leadership led to full  globalization of Ford engineering, significant reduction in platform complexity, adherence to manufacturing quality processes and best practices, commitment to be profitable in small cars, and more.

In Summary:

Bill Ford Jr. should get the credit for being a visionary in desiring to build a sustainable business.  Alan Mulally should get credit for being the CEO who drove the revitalized and redesigned management methods to achieve it.   There are some particular executives who were most instrumental in driving the changes to fruition, especially Derrick Kuzak.  And the Ford employees made it a reality.

Ford is not out of the woods yet, but it is a good example of how today’s world needs more than good intentions or better project management.  It starts from the top down, to achieve Excellence by Design.

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