We made a memory the other day. Alan Mulally (former CEO of Ford) joined my Vistage CEO Group as an honorary member for an afternoon executive session. Unforgettable! We made a huge memory the members and I will never forget.
It was a bucket list item for me as Alan has been a hero of mine for many years:
- Before becoming a Vistage-Chair 12 years ago, I ran the Aerospace Division of a British public company, Spirent plc (I am British, American now). In 1999/2000 we teamed with Boeing in a joint bid to Qantas with our AIS (Aviation Information Solutions) offering, when Alan was running the Commercial Airplane Division of Boeing. Before that, I was the Sales & Marketing VP for a Dowty Aerospace company and we provided the actuation systems for the leading edge slats and trailing edge flaps on the 777, when Alan was the Chief Engineer.
- I have been an external Board member of a family business of car dealerships in San Diego for 11 years (Toyota, Subaru & Hyundai) so I have enjoyed immersing myself in the automobile industry over that time and the roller-coaster ride that it was (not least of all for Toyota, with all the safety issues/recalls etc) doing a lot of reading about the industry. So it really caught my attention when Alan moved over to being the CEO of Ford and I started to follow the story closely. Coincidentally, when I graduated from my MBA at London Business School back in 1990, Ford offered me a job but I decided to go into Aerospace.
- In addition to being a Chair I am also a Vistage-Speaker to our groups globally, specializing on the topic of Enterprise-Agility. Not least of all, I help our members understand that agile-meetings are at the heart of enterprise-agility. So I was thrilled when I started hearing about Alan’s approach with meetings at Ford, initially in articles and then in the book “American Icon: Alan Mulally and The Fight to Save Ford Motor Company” in which meetings are identified as the central algorithm of his whole turnaround approach. I started telling his story which I have been doing so for 5 years already, helping our members understand its universal relevance to small companies and big companies alike.
If you haven’t read the book, you should. You will quickly get a sense of how graceful, humble and powerful Alan’s leadership presence is, which is what we experienced in our Vistage Group that afternoon. Among many others, there was a great moment – at one point his cellphone rang as he had overlooked silencing it, so he received “the cat” (a symbol of our culture in the group – we have a beanie-baby toy cat (who is being the head-cat we are having to herd right now?), which you don’t want, and a dog (who is helping shepherd things along in a good direction?), which you do want, which get lobbed around between the members). It was a great moment (see right) which he took so gracefully and humorously. So much so, we gave him the cat to take away as a momento! I have had that cat for the 12 years I have been chairing and will now need to get a new one, but it was well worth it!
Here are a few things that my members said about Alan:
I left our meeting on such a high. Alan is an amazing person and I was struck by his warmth, humility and passion to serve humanity. He is truly inspirational and one in a Billion. Philip Lurie, CEO, ZUZA (seated to Alan’s right below)
Not surprisingly, Alan embraced the “working together” environment of our Vistage group and proceeded to dive in. His humble style, humorous personality and vast experience provided a unique and lasting impact I will never forget. Jeff Zember, CEO, Plidek (seated to Alan’s left below)
Alan’s approach to meetings was a model of elegant simplicity. He takes a myriad of complex agendas, processes, and issues, and simplifies them into a straightforward and understandable approach while holding all members of his team accountable, all with a positive and supporting leadership style that I found to be extremely relatable to the kind of leader I want to be. Jamie Prevost, CEO, Prevost Construction (who’s issue we processed that afternoon, in which Alan participated).[More Under Construction]
Here’s a message from Alan:
The deep sense of mutual respect, trust and transparency I experienced in Mike’s Vistage Group was exceptional and is what my “working-together” philosophy was all about in Boeing and Ford, helping those teams get to the same place. Experiencing that in their groups every month, Vistage members should be very confident they can evolve the same level of working-together teamwork in their businesses as we did in Boeing and Ford. (Alan Mulally)
At the end of the afternoon, we started comparing notes: “Working Together Meets Agility”.
Also read more at Agility Masters: Alan Mulally.
Thank you so much to you Alan. You are an honorary member for life – come back any time.
Unforgettable. A huge memory. Indelibly inked.
Do you aspire to be that kind of leader? I know that my members do.