Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Ford Motors CEO replacement - good or not?

From the world of finance and investing: Ford Motor companies has chosen Alan Mulally to replace Bill Ford Jr. as CEO of the ailing automaker. Mulally is a former senior executive from Boeing Co. (Boeing being the large airplane manufacturer).

Well, that all sounds just wonderful -- at least to all the "analysts" at major banks and brokerage houses, who were instantly jumping on the bandwagon and upping their ratings on Ford stock (typically from "sell" to "hold"). They all expect some sort of miracle perhaps. I personally do not see the fit with Mulally. Sure, he has seen similar competitive issues, been through similar restructuring efforts, and all sorts of mumbo jumbo; but, then again who at this level of senior management wouldn't have?? And, this guy has been with Boeing for 37 years. I would hope he has seen some significant challenges and worked through them.

My primary reason for questioning this move is simply that I see marketing airplanes to an very limited audience (airlines, military) where there are but a handful of models to be sold and where there are as few as 100's of airplanes sold per year for the industry, is a completely different ball game than marketing a commoditized retail product like an automobile. And, how about styling? Colors? Amenities? Sure, airplanes have some variation in amenities, but it is not the person sitting in the seats that goes to Boeing and says "I want a TV and a place to plug my laptop in" - it is the airlines. What I am getting at is that automobile marketing, especially successful marketing, is entirely a function of getting the consumer to buy into your product. There is an entirely new set of criteria at play that gets a consumer excited about your cars then there is about an airline or the military wanting to buy a few multi-million-dollar planes.

So, I am doubtful of the depth of synergies that Mulally will bring to the table at Ford. From the few quotes I have seen, I just see yet another senior manager spouting the usual buzz phrases and things like "they have a great management team" and so forth. If the management team is so great, why is Ford on the edge of bankruptcy? A CNBC interview had him also saying his aim is to build "a portfolio of automobiles that is world class and customers really want to have," which to me just sounds like a darned obvious thing any CEO of an auto company should want to do.

In the end, I would have been more excited to hear that Bill Ford Jr. chose someone from a successful consumer goods company who had shown they could take market share from their competition with goods that were innovative, well designed, and beautifully styled. And, someone that really could show return on investment for marketing campaign dollars would have been wonderful too - since I question the efficacy and value of nearly all marketing and advertising campaigns (especially all these lame automotive commercials on TV that will show you 29 seconds of nothing to do with the car, and one second of the car itself, in a 30-second spot)... I'm only sure the marketing firms are great at marketing one thing: themselves, since how else would auto companies buy into this approach!

Show me the great cars you have (Mr. Mulally)! That is what it is going to come down to (oh, that and overcoming the prevailing opinion that your products and company have gone down the toilet, so why should anyone even consider buying from you when your firm and products are in such lousy shape?) Show me that you have more than a "great management team" or whatever -- I am the consumer, I do not care about your management team, I care about your vehicles, their prices, their gas mileage, features, styling, etc. And, until you make the consumers happy and meet their needs better than your competition, Wall Street is not going to get much out of you either. Good luck.

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