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TheStreet Open House

Why Alan Mulally Will Stay at Ford

Stocks in this article: BA F MSFT

It is possible to view the battle for Mulally as a war between industrial America and technological America. For several generations of Americans, Ford is among a handful of our greatest companies. But for a more recent generation it is far eclipsed by Microsoft. Mulally has been able to straddle the two worlds, just as Boeing has, but he is not a tech person. He is a hero of industrial America.

What Microsoft sees, of course, is Mulally's leadership skills, which start with his personality. Mulally has one of the great personalities-- expansive, aware, welcoming, all accompanied by a sense of humor. In thousands of interviews, I have rarely met anyone like him. If you interview him, he spends the first five minutes interviewing you.

I am reminded of a description of Donald Trump, another great personality, whether you love him or hate him. For a 2011 story about the Trump Shuttle, I talked with Randy Smith, once Trump Shuttle director of sales, who said of Trump: "He had ideas, he would poke around asking questions, and he exhibited one of the things I love when I am hiring and promoting people: He has the curiosity gene." So does Mulally.

For a 2012 story on Mulally's leadership qualities, I interviewed Steve Parks, lead aerodynamics engineer for the Ford Fusion, who recalled a 2011 incident in the Dearborn, Mich., design studio when Mulally entered with a group to have his picture taken.

"I was working in my cubicle and I wanted to see what he looked like in person, so I looked at him, and he looked at me, and he took a right turn and walked over and said 'Hi, I'm Alan Mulally,'" Parks said. "I said, 'I know. I'm Steve Parks. I'm working on aerodynamics for the Fusion.' He said 'aerodynamics, I love aerodynamics,' and he gave me a handshake and a hug. He was involved in aerodynamics at Boeing, and he started firing off questions, and we were talking about incorporating concepts from Boeing." The two men talked for 20 minutes.

"I have met many people," Parks said. "You can warm up to him and you can tell he is interested in the technologies and the people. He is a genuinely warm person."

Another thing I know about Mulally comes from reading American Icon, his story as told by Bryce Hoffman, a Detroit News reporter. Among the many insights in the book is that Mulally has trouble making up his mind about changing jobs.

According to the book, when Ford tried to hire Mulally in 2006, the courtship was lengthy and agonizing. Finally, on Aug. 25, Mulally turned Bill Ford down. The next day, he had doubts and he called Bill Ford and said, "It's not over." So Bill Ford sent an emissary, Joe Laymon, Ford's human resources director, to Seattle. At first Mulally refused to see Laymon. Then they met. The next day Mulally met with Boeing executives and apparently was not pleased. Then he met again with Layman. Then he flew to Chicago to meet with Boeing CEO Jim McNerney. After the meeting he went to Midway Airport, where Layman, who had followed him to Chicago, was waiting. There Mulally signed a Ford contract.

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