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Mulally Meets Toyota - Changing Ford's Mindset

When I heard that Ford CEO Alan Mulally met earlier this month in Tokyo with Toyota CEO Fujio Cho, I wasn't surprised. Nor should Ford investors and fans of the #2 American automaker. This is yet another sign, Mulally is bound and determined to move his company into a more competitive position - even if that means learning from a fierce competitor that is about to pass Ford.

Why am I not surprised? Last year, when filing a series of reports from Boeing's 787 assembly facility in suburban Seattle, I was touring the plant and getting a rundown on the latest advancements the company had made in incorporating a "moving" assembly line with greater efficiency and flexibility than Boeing had previously used in building commercial airplanes.

Boeing essentially took the Toyota Production System the Japanese automaker used to build high quality vehicles at a lower cost and applied many of the principles to airplane manufacturing. As head of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Alan Mulally saw the genius in how Toyota operates and wanted his company to learn from it. He's doing that again at Ford.

Just last week, Monica Langley of the Wall Street Journal reported how executives at Ford were passing around copies of "The Machine That Changed the World." A book about Toyota's manufacturing operation that Mulally often cites. Those executives are learning first hand how intent Mulally is to break Ford's deeply entrenched problems by getting executives, managers, and hopefully everyone in his company, to think and work smarter, more efficiently.



This is a company that needs to change. For too long, it's been shackled by the legacy of doing things the same way -- even though those ways in recent years have lead to Ford losing market share, losing billions of dollars, and frankly, losing it's way.

Mulally's meeting with Mr. Cho may be nothing more than a new CEO in the auto industry meeting one of the longtime leaders in the car business. But even just meeting and talking with Mr. Cho sends a message: Ford motor company is looking to change.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com


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