One gigantic reason Ford is charging hard while its American auto brethren continue to struggle is CEO Alan Mulally. The company avoided government-sponsored bankruptcy and is back to profitability under his guiding hand.But when he initially took the job to head up Ford in 2006, few saw the turnaround coming. Some business leaders even thought he was crazy for accepting the role.
“When you took the job, we all thought you were insane,” said JetBlue founder and current CEO of Azul David Neeleman at the “Brainstorm Green” conference, according to Shelley DuBois at Fortune.
Neeleman’s feelings bring up an interesting issue. How risky is it to take the reins of a company at its lowest point? If you fail, is your career forfeit?
There are many executives out there that have achieved greatness because they transformed an ailing company and restored it to its former glory. Look at Louis Gerstner at IBM, Lee Iacocca at Chrysler and Mickey Drexler at Gap — they’ve all become symbols of management genius for their high-profile turnaround projects.
But for every success, there are plenty of failures. When a CEO is brought in to revamp a company, everyone expects them to do it, no matter how bad the situation is.
Take Best Buy and former CEO Brian Dunn. He was put in a terrible spot, heading a company with a scarred brand and aged business model.
Best Buy expected Dunn to make everything better. He didn’t, and his failure will be remembered. If Mulally did the same at Ford — an even higher profile company with an iconic American brand — his reputation would have been shot, despite the deck being stacked against him from the beginning.
What do you think — was Mulally, who was a senior exec at Boeing at the time, “insane” to take the job at Ford in 2007? Or was he just taking a risk and being ambitious?