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Working with Alan Mulally at Ford

Murali Gopalan | Updated on May 21, 2020

Tom Flack recalls special moments with the former Ford CEO

Before coming on board as Chief Purchasing Officer of Tata Motors in 2017, Tom Flack had worked for nearly 15 years at Ford Motor Company.

“One of the great things I could say, in terms of experiences, was to work with Alan Mulally. What was so inspiring about him, among other things, was that he had an uncanny ability to take a divided organisation — chimneys or silos or whatever you want to call them — and find this energy,” recalls Flack.

Mulally took over as President & CEO of Ford in 2006 and is still remembered for the way he turned the company around, especially in the global crisis of 2008-09. “He actually grabbed that moment and used it to redefine the company while bringing everyone together,” says Flack. In the process, a much stronger company came out of this effort.

Fast forward to the present Covid-19 crisis and he believes that it is the need of the hour for people to re-imagine themselves rather than “wallow in the misery” of this pandemic. “I have never seen that much charisma in a single person like Alan,” says Flack.

Mulally was the one who spearheaded the ‘One Ford’ initiative, where the idea was to reduce the number of global platforms and optimise the strengths of different geographies in sourcing and cost savings. During the Lehman crisis of 2008-09, Ford did not seek any government loan but still stood up for General Motors and Chrysler, which had gone belly up.

One of the great learnings Flack had during his Ford days was the time Mulally went to the US Congress. The Ford CEO took a lot of heat from people wondering why the company had shown up since it was not asking for help.

“And precipitating that, a group of us had spent several months sitting in a conference room called the war room,” narrates Flack. There was concern that in this huge connection at Detroit, if GM and Chrysler were to go bankrupt, what would happen to Ford.

“And the answer was, we would go bankrupt, they (the Government) would shut us down too, because we are so connected in the supply community, across our businesses,” continues Flack. It was this reality that put Mulally at the table with the US Congress seeking support for GM and Chrysler even while Ford did not need anything.

Published on May 21, 2020

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