In the last couple of months, I read two books which gave very different insights into the same industry. As the title suggests, ‘American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company’ talks about the turnaround that Mulally brought about at Ford. Here was an American icon which had stalled and started regressing in spite of having the best of brands, talents and money to spend. The organization culture had become one of the biggest impediments for progress. When Mulally came in, he decided to make simple changes (like the Daily Business Review meetings, consolidated teams and improved transparency) that had brought him results in a similar setting at Boeing. What Mulally had to do was take Ford out of its self-inflicted stupor and toxic internal politics and move forward in pursuit of what were considered almost impossible targets of revenue and cost-savings. He had to challenge and beat the status quo.
The other book that I read was Ashlee Vance’s quasi-authorised biography of Elon Musk. The book gives an account of Musk's life, work, relationships as well as the sometimes-abrasive nature of Musk’s people management and yet, people take ownership of extremely unrealistic goals Musk sets for them as if they came up with those goals themselves. They were trying to achieve the impossible in each of those companies (PayPal, Zip2, Tesla, SpaceX, Solar City, Hyper Loop) and probably had the most inconsiderate boss. They were also driven by a larger purpose – and the rather bombastic statements like save humanity or give humanity a chance are not really out of place in their context. Clearly, Musk has challenged the status quo in industries as varied as digital payments, automobiles, space, solar power, urban transport.
One (Alan Mulally) had to save and the other (Elon Musk) had to make something out of nothing. If you will permit a cricketing analogy – it seemed like a 4th innings hundred to win/save a Test match versus a hundred on the first day of a Test where no other batsman got to double figures!
So here are a few thought experiments for you. Please post your answers in the comments section:
- The leadership styles of these two men were markedly different. Do you think if we put one person in the other’s situation and vice versa, they would have done equally well?
- While one project may seem like a more glamorous thing to do, both are equally tough. Given a chance, which one would you want to be a part of?
- Who else do you think had the right psyche, attitude and style to pull off what either of these did? (Need not be only a real or famous person)
P.S. By the way, when Tesla tried to launch a Model E after their Model S became successful, Ford told them not to. Musk even spoke to Mulally over the phone to avoid legal wrangling but Mulally and Ford refused to see the humour in Tesla launching models S, E, X and Y! Guess one role requires a different setting for one’s sense of humour, for sure!