Alan Mulally

Alan Mulally's portrait
Alan Mulally
  • From:

    The Ford Motor Company, Retired │ Dearborn, Michigan│ Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Retired │ Seattle, Washington

  • Year:

    2017

  • Subject:

    Leadership

  • Award:

    Bower Award for Business Leadership

  • Citation:

    For his extraordinary career in the aeronautics, astronautics, and automotive industries, particularly for his transformative leadership of the Ford Motor Company, which revitalized the company’s legacy as an icon of American business and innovation.

As president and CEO of Ford Motor Company, Alan Mulally was credited with leading one of the most amazing turnarounds in business history. Mulally unflappably confronted Ford’s deficits; it was not the first company he had saved from despair. “No matter how bad Ford Motor Company’s problems are today, they aren’t as bad as Boeing’s were on September 11, 2001,” Alan Mulally said moments after becoming CEO of the 114-year-old automaker.

Mulally's earnestness and pragmatism in business may result from his education as an engineer. In 1967 he received a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from the University of Kansas. Two years later, he earned a master’s degree in both fields and joined Boeing as an engineer. At Boeing, Mulally advanced quickly through the company and was recognized in 1978 as Engineer of the Year by both Boeing and the National Society of Professional Engineers. The accolades he received came as a result of the significant contributions Mulally made to a number of Boeing aircraft. 

In 1982 Mulally earned a master’s degree in business management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an Alfred P. Sloan fellow. He applied his business acumen as vice president and general manager of the 777 program at Boeing. Mulally and his team were repeatedly acknowledged for their design achievements for the aircraft. The 777 is Boeing’s first aircraft designed to fly-by-wire, being completely controlled by an electronic interface. It is Boeing’s best-selling airliner due to its long-range capability and fuel efficiency. The National Aeronautic Association granted Mulally and his team the 1995 Robert J. Collier Trophy for the greatest achievement in aeronautics and astronautics of the year for the Boeing 777. 

After his impressive leadership with the 777 program, Mulally moved in quick succession through high-level management roles at Boeing. He was the senior vice president of airplane development for Boeing Commercial Airplanes Group, president of Boeing Information, Space & Defense Systems, and president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. His career at Boeing culminated in the role of executive vice president of the Boeing Company and president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. After the company suffered significant losses in the early 2000s, Mulally is credited for the company's recovery and generating $22.6 billion in new business sales by 2005. Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine named Mulally the 2006 person of the year. Shortly after, he moved on from Boeing and took over as CEO of Ford Motor Company.

At the time of his appointment, Ford had posted its worst loss in more than 14 years, two quarters at a $6 billion deficit, and its once blue-chip stock had been downgraded to junk bond status. In his book American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford, author Bryce G. Hoffman recounts how Mulally applied his engineering training to the failing automaker to “reduce drag and improve aerodynamics.” Mulally immediately shifted Ford’s organization from a hierarchy to a matrix structure, allowing its leaders to better understand the company. The new management structure revealed the company’s waste and identified a need for restructuring. When Mulally started, Ford and its subsidiaries were producing 97 different cars and trucks around the world. He convinced the board of directors that Ford needed to “radically simplify” their global lineup.

In 2007 Mulally fortified Ford’s new business strategy by rolling out the One Ford plan. One Ford condensed the company’s initiatives into a four-point business plan that included restructuring, obtaining financing, developing new products, and working together as one lean, global enterprise. Mulally’s clear outline presented the company with a common view of success and effectively shifted Ford’s culture away from one infamous for mistrust to one that fosters collaboration among employees and business partners for the ultimate satisfaction of their customers.

Mulally serendipitously timed the sale of Ford’s overseas acquisitions and insightfully acquired $23 billion in bank loans to finance the company during restructuring. In 2008 the housing bubble caused a nationwide banking crisis and the U.S. economy fell into a recession. Two of the Big Three automakers (General Motors and Chrysler) were forced to accept a government bailout by U.S. taxpayers to prevent insolvency, but Mulally's keen decisions kept Ford from sharing that fate. Under Mulally’s leadership, the Ford Motor Company returned to profitability and has been acknowledged for improved quality. 

Mulally retired from Ford in 2014. He was appointed to Google’s board of directors and in 2015 joined the board of directors of Carbon3D, a startup 3D printing company. Throughout his career, Mulally’s guidance as a leader proved indispensable in transforming insurmountable business challenges into triumphs. His steadfast adherence to maintaining focus on advancing technologies while nurturing a thoughtful strategic plan has resulted in his many business accomplishments. But it is unlikely that Mulally would have enjoyed such an impressive career for nearly 50 years if not for his deep belief and proven achievement in instilling in every member of a company the faith that they are essential to its success. 

Information as of April 1, 2017