Ford Death Watch 28: Alan Mulally Wants to Be Where the People Are
Back in ’98, the BBC aired a fly-on-the-wall documentary series called “Back to the Floor.” A camera crew followed five British bosses who left the relative safety of the executive suite for a week's labor with downtrodden workers at the sharp end. When the show migrated to America’s PBS, it lacked the undercurrent of class warfare that gave Auntie Beeb’s original its zing. When Ford CEO Alan Mulally recently revived this scenario by playing car salesman, the results were equally dire.
Of course, Alan didn’t sell cars for a week. He “worked” for an afternoon at Village Ford in Dearborn, Michigan and Galpin Ford in L.A. Hanging with the Village people, Ford’s top dog supposedly set a blistering sales pace: four cars in forty minutes. Wow! Assuming Ford needs to sell 5.3m cars for a turnaround, Mulally should train 375 salesmen to repeat his voodoo. Working ten hour days, six days a week, they’d return Ford to ’05 sales levels by the end of the fiscal year.
Anyway, Nancy Miner was one of Big Al’s scalps. After a bad dealership service experience in New York (which Big Al didn’t investigate), Ms. Miner decided to go car shopping in Ford's home patch. That said, the main reason behind her journey was a visit with her son Kevin, a longtime Ford employee. Now don’t get to thinking Ms. Miner was a Ford family ringer, carefully prepped for purchase. At least, not according to the debrief provided by the divine Mr. M.
"She was down pretty much to a Camry and the Fusion,” Al said, displaying a car salesman’s knack for data capture. ”So I told her all about the Camry because I've had every Camry, I've had Lexus cars, I know all about Japan. I told her about the [Fusion], asked what her needs were. The Fusion was really for her."
It's a shame Ms. Miner didn’t ask Ford’s CEO why he chose Toyotas and Lexi over Fords and Lincolns for all those years, and whether this sudden change in brand loyalty had anything to do with his FoMoCo-sponsored $35m compensation package (plus unlimited G5 air miles). As opposed to, say, a recent, radical shift in Ford's comparative product quality.
Ms. Miner might also have enquired if Mulally’s all-encompassing knowledge of Japan includes insight into that country's automakers' ability to generate millions of sedan sales without relying on rental, taxi, livery and/or law enforcement fleets. While we're at it, readers with sales experience might like to know why “call me Alan” switched the qualify (ask about the customer’s needs) and present (tell her about the car) parts of the official Ford sales process. Never mind. I guess Mulally is more of a closer.
Big Al put this proposition to the test at Galpin Ford. Needless to say, the L.A. Ford franchise isn’t one of those Midwestern stores where the tumbleweeds blow across the sales floor and the dealer principal can’t afford to even think about divorcing his second wife. Galpin is, in fact, the world's top-selling Ford dealership. Suffice it to say: fish, barrel, Ford, Mulally.
Once again, “Call me Alan” sold four vehicles. Once gain, little was left to chance. Longtime customer Danny Harrington— 15 vehicles and counting– was teed-up. The general contractor was “warned” in advance that FoMoCo’s top dog would be on site, and took full advantage of the opportunity.
Herrington sat in the room where small pens sign big checks with Ford’s CEO and Galpin Sales GM Terry Miller. The Associated Press reports that Herrington wanted more money for his 2000 F-250. M&M did some pencil pushing and reduced the builder's payment to his target of $600 per month– for six years. Oh, and Big Al clinched the deal by throwing in a set of floor mats (I kid you not).
"There were a couple of things that were in question as to be part of the deal," Herrington said post facto. "I think because of him [Mulally] it went my way."
While the word “think” doesn’t indicate that everything went Herrington’s way, there’s a more important question: what did Alan Mulally learn from this exercise?
Call Me Al didn’t face any of the drudgery association with car sales: waiting hours for “ups,” filling out reams of tedious paperwork, making sales calls to old customers, etc. Nor was he subject to any of the psychological pressures facing salesmen and women: depending on a sale to make ends meet, facing down the GM, competing for bonuses, etc. Nor did he get a taste for a “real” customer interaction; all the prospects knew Big Al was Ford’s CEO. In short, The Blue Oval's Big Boss learned more about PR than people.
In the “Back to the Floor” doc series, the egghead CEO always gained an appreciation for his street smart employees’ difficulties— many of which were the direct result of company policies. The basic idea: something will change. In contrast, Mulally’s flying visit to the front line was a cynical move that changed nothing and fooled no one– except maybe Mulally himself.
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