Why Alan Mulally and Ford Is a Better Story Than Donald Sterling and the Clippers

Story has been updated with Ford's early afternoon share price 

DETROIT (TheStreet) -- Mr. Sterling, it is time for you to step aside, time for America to move on to a better story -- the Ford (F) story.

In the Los Angeles Clippers story, we have a stomach-turning tale of a divorce attorney who kicked poor people out of their apartments, made racist remarks and chased ill-chosen young women.

As for Ford, we have an inspiring story about a charming executive who seems to like everyone he meets. He took over one of the world's most famous companies, at a time when it was broken, and he fixed it. Alan Mulally restored Ford as a symbol of excellence around the world.

By now, we have all heard enough about Sterling. Today is a day to focus on somebody who acts well and who did something important in life, something that makes people feel good, not disgusted. Ford, after all, is a symbol of America. Its success is our success.

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On Thursday, Mulally announced his retirement date at an inspiring ceremony. Also on Thursday, The New York Daily News reported that Sterling will sue the NBA if the other 29 owners force him to sell the Clippers.

One of the points made repeatedly at the Ford ceremony was that Mulally knows when to go -- one more rule of good conduct that has apparently eluded Sterling.

"Alan's a Hall of Fame CEO, we all know that," Ford Chairman Bill Ford said at the ceremony. "Most Hall of Fame CEOs have a tough time letting go. They go kicking and screaming. Then what happens, of course, is chaos ensues and there is not a smooth transition.

"Alan's last act is his finest act, by giving us this opportunity to have an amazing transition," Bill Ford said. By the way, there is no intent here to imply that Sterling is a Hall of Fame CEO, although he did pay $15 million for an asset now worth $600 million. That's not due to him, but he hasn't done everything wrong. At least once in his life, he got lucky.

It was not luck that made Mulally great. Not to blubber, but the story of what Mulally did at Ford cannot fail to inspire. Thursday's ceremony also showed the key roles of two other Ford executives: Bill Ford, who made the decision to pursue the long-time Boeing (BA) executive, and then saw it through, and Mark Fields, whom Mulally took under his wing.

"Thank you for leaving us this gift of a transformed Ford," Fields told Mulally. "You showed us a culture of transparency, a culture of positive leadership and also what working together can accomplish."

Fields told a story about one of the things that makes Mulally a great manager. In Mulally's early days at Ford, leadership at the company gathered for a session in which it discussed how to improve inter-departmental communications, which had long been a weak point.

Mulally let the various executives talk for 45 minutes, Fields said. They discussed in excruciating detail who should report to who and topics such as "how the business units would work with the field team" and various other intricacies of the communications flow charts.

Then Mulally "gets up, goes to the white board, asks Felicia Fields for a marker, and writes across it 'working together.' He says, 'Can't we just work together?' It was one of those light bulb moments," said Fields, who realized then that "we're making this all too hard."

One of the things I remember about Mulally in the early days is a quote he offered when asked if Ford was contemplating a merger.  "We're going to merge with ourselves," he responded, another indication that a big part of his job was to break down the walls separating divisions of Ford from other divisions of Ford.

Anyone with the remotest connection to the auto industry could go on and on telling stories about how Mulally changed Ford.

Ford shares, which drifted as low as $1.65 in 2009, were trading early Thursday afternoon at $16.05, down 10 cents. The share price improvement made tens of thousands of people, including Mulally, richer.    

It would be nice to go to the gym this afternoon and to find that people have moved on to discussing the Ford transformation, as opposed to once again reviewing the excruciating details of Donald Sterling's life and deeds.

Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

To contact this writer, click here.

Follow @tedreednc

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