TX Paper Accuses Mulally of Insulting Salespeople


Star-Telegram.com | 04/06/2007 | America's Great Automotive Stuntmen

Local car columnist Ed Wallace seems like a friendly curmudgeon. This week, he writes about Ford's CEO Allan Mulally and his adventures at Village Ford (back in Dearborn). Wallace rightfully takes on the “hero CEO” image that the Ford P.R. folks are apparently trying to create. That seems to go against the Lean and Toyota mindset, but Mulally has a tough enough job ahead without us nitpicking (and it's not even worth the bother to nitpick his paycheck, or Mark Fields').

From the Wallace column:

“Four cars (almost) in 40 minutes. That's the Alan Mulally sales tally at Village Ford in Dearborn.” — Automotive News, March 28, 2007 “I'd say ‘Hi, I'm Alan. I'm from Ford. I'm just helping out today.' I got so close to one family …”
— Alan Mulally, from the same article

Here we go again: PR campaigns being sold as real news, as the new head of the Ford Motor Company innocently and unintentionally manages to insult everyone who has ever tried to earn a living in the automobile industry by selling cars. The only humorous aspect to this story is that it ran in a respected automotive publication, the Automotive News, to which every new car dealer in this country probably subscribes.

It's humorous because I doubt sincerely that any dealer, reading that Ford CEO Alan Mulally dropped by Village Ford in Dearborn for a mere 40 minutes and made three sales (and has another pending), did anything but roll his eyes and groan at that outrageous claim. Why? Because even at the best-run dealerships it often takes 10 minutes just to find the keys to the particular automobile that the customer is interested in purchasing.

The article also invites a pertinent question: Why, if Mr. Mulally can easily sell four cars in 40 minutes, didn't he stay at the dealership all day earning new customers for Ford? After all, the owner of Village Ford probably would have appreciated the additional 72 more sales on that one day.

Wallace also takes a slap at Bill Ford:

Reading these stories reminded me of a Fortune magazine cover from many years ago, during Bill Ford's ascendancy at his great-grandfather's firm. It was a close-up of Ford sporting stylish sunglasses, under a title blaring, “Motown Cool.” One has to wonder what, exactly, is “cool” about nearly destroying one of America's great automotive companies in less than half a decade.

At least Ford was only drawing a $1 salary. My thought is that we need fewer “hero CEO's” and more effort and focus on improving processes, improving quality, engaging employees (and dealers), and taking care of the customer.

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

  1. Andy Wagner says

    Village Ford, eh? I grew up in Dearborn and watched my dad buy a few cars there. Selling Fords at Village Ford is can’t be all that difficult. Especially if you’re the CEO. All of the customers are employees with Ford A-Plan incentives. Heck, there was probably a line outside of folks just wanting to say “I bought my Ford from Alan.”
    He should have tried it in Boston or LA. That would be a worthy test.

  2. Andy Wagner says

    You know, I take it back.
    This was a Gemba walk. Perhaps not a long-enough Gemba walk, but when’s the last time an auto industry CEO walked into a car dealer? I don’t care what the PR folks claim he did, he went to the Gemba, observed, asked questions, and hopefully learned a few things about how to do his job better.

  3. Mark Graban says

    It might have been a pretty superficial gemba walk. Was it a staged PR event where people tell the boss what he wants to hear or was he really listening for honest feedback? Was Mulally offering to help fix any problems that needed fixing at his level?

  4. David says

    There is no more certain way to piss off salespeople than for a non-salesman to tell them how trivially easy the product is to sell.

    It doesn’t sound like Mulally has much experience with business-to-consumer sales or with sales through a dealer channel. It would actually be worthwhile for him to spend a *lot* of time at dealerships.

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