Tuesday, November 23, 2010

CNBC's Ford Turnaround Special

I remain unconvinced that Ford has effected a true, long-lasting "turnaround." As I discussed in this recent post concerning CNBC's special program on the topic, it's much too early to declare victory on that dimension.

Accidentally still awake early this morning, I saw some of the aforementioned special. I was unimpressed.

To be clear, Mulally deserves credit for doing some things which were necessary to stop Ford's death spiral. These included no-brainers like selling or shutting marginal brands, some of which had been foolishly purchased within the prior decade or so. And, yes, Mulally accelerated development of various new models.

But what struck me as I listened to all of these actions was how, well, obvious they were.

I have a high regard for Mulally's managerial skill. I believe I expressed this for his performance at Boeing, which foolishly failed to adequately reward him. So he was ripe for recruitment to Ford.

However, there probably are 5-10 good US senior executives who could have done most, if not all of what Mulally did at Ford. I suspect much of what Mulally was able to do was a function of Bill Ford and his family's realization at how badly they had run Ford into near-bankruptcy. They had, to use a phrase from Saul Alinsky's playbook, become unfrozen.

What were once-unthinkable measures had become acceptable, given that the alternative was corporate death.

Mulally was fortunate to be given so much latitude. I really doubt that, had he arrived five years earlier, he would have been so successful in halting Ford's slide.

This doesn't detract from what Mulally accomplished, but it does suggest others could have done the same, given his opportunity.

And it still doesn't mean Ford, and Mulally, have accomplished what would be a first- a long term, lasting ability to earn consistently superior total returns for shareholders. Which, to me, would constitute a true, enduring turnaround of Ford.

No comments: