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Ford names new CEO

Kai Ryssdal Sep 5, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: If everything goes right for Ford, today might prove to be the day. The company announced this afternoon Bill Ford Jr., that’s Henry’s great-grandson, will be stepping down. Alan Mulally from Boeing gets the nod for the top job. Mullally’s been with the airplane maker his whole career. Ford’s betting he can sell cars as well as planes. We’ve got Micheline Maynard from the New York Times on the line. Hi, Mickey.

MICHELINE MAYNARD: Hi, Kai. How are you?

RYSSDAL: I’m well. You know, the last time you and I spoke, a couple of weeks ago, about Ford and its turnaround plan, the one question I wanted to ask but didn’t was How long do you think Bill Ford has? Maybe I should’ve, huh?

MAYNARD: Well, it isn’t so much of a question of how much time Bill Ford has. You know, no one’s ever going to fire Bill Ford. But how much time did Bill Ford want to spend as CEO, and we got the answer today.

RYSSDAL: Who is Alan Mulally?

MAYNARD: Well, Alan Mulally is the head of the commercial airplane division at the Boeing Co. This is really the father of the 777 jet, and he’s also the father of the new 787 jet. And it’s been selling extremely well around the world. It’s sort of brought Boeing back from a position of maybe being behind Airbus a little bit.

RYSSDAL: Great for Boeing. But is selling cars the same as selling airplanes?

MAYNARD: Well, one of the things that he’s an expert in is operations. And he actually studied the Ford Taurus when he went in to fix Boeing’s operations. And what’s very interesting about this is, you know, while it takes much longer to build an airplane than it does a car, you have to think about the process going into it. There’s a lot of ways to take out waste. And right now what Ford really needs is a business leader who understands operations. And, you know, this very clearly is a coup for Ford.

RYSSDAL: Do you think, though, that he’s got enough oomph to be able to take this company, which has been closing factories and cutting production and really turn it around?

MAYNARD: Well, it’s a tremendous moment in the auto industry because we’re trying to think of a leader at this high of a level that’s come into a Detroit company from the outside. I mean, over the years car companies have hired executives from each other. And so, talk about bringing in new blood to Detroit . . .

RYSSDAL: I tell ya, you sound a little surprised, actually.

MAYNARD: I’m surprised but when you think about it . . . Alan Mulally was passed over a couple of times to be CEO at Boeing. And everytime he was passed over people would say, “Gee, why didn’t Alan Mulally get to be CEO?” Well, now he’s going to get his CEO’s job at Ford Motor Co., which is one of the biggest challenges in business today. This is bringing back memories of when IBM hired Lou Gerstner away from RJR Nabisco. So it’ll be very interesting to see if Alan Mulally can have the same kind of success that Mr. Gerstner had at IBM.

RYSSDAL: One last question, Mickey, before I let you go. This is his family’s company, basically. Why would he leave at this point when it clearly is in such desperate need?

MAYNARD: Well, Bill Ford has been under tremendous pressure. He’s been functioning in three jobs: Chairman, chief executive, and he’s been their de facto chief operating officer. And the experts that I talked to said that any one of those jobs is a lot for a single person to handle, let alone somebody trying to take on all three of them. And I think as he got into running operations that it became pretty clear that they were going to have to find some to fill that position. But Bill Ford is remaining as chairman of the company, and, you know, as I said, you don’t fire Bill Ford. I think he’ll be there for quite a while.

RYSSDAL: Micheline Maynard is the Detroit bureau chief for The New York Times. Thanks, Mickey.

MAYNARD: My pleasure. Thank you.

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