Best CEO ever? Today is Mulally's last at Ford

Chris Woodyard
Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford, poses inside the 2015 Ford Mustang on December 5, 2013 in New York City
Getty Images

On his last day on the job, will Alan Mulally go down in history as Ford Motor's greatest CEO ever?

Possibly, although surpassing founder Henry Ford, one of the greatest innovators in American industrial history, makes the title nearly impossible for anyone else to ever achieve.

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Still, having taken the helm in 2006, it's easy to argue that Mulally has accomplished far more than any other automotive CEO in recent history. He'll surely be a tough act for the next CEO, Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields, to follow.

Here's why:

  • The plain-spoken Kansan had the guts to mortgage the entire company — right down to the big blue oval logo — to raise cash reserves in 2006. As a result, Ford pulled through the recession in contrast to General Motors and Chrysler Group, which didn't beat the same path to lenders. Both filed for bankruptcy protection and received federal bailouts. Ford didn't.
  • Mulally straightened out a fractured team of managers. He created a "war room" at Ford's headquarters where executives met each week to review progress. He turned ever-rosy reports into more realistic assessments.
  • He created a movement within the company that he called One Ford, pulling together Ford units around the world to eliminate waste through duplication. No longer would similar vehicles be created entirely separately for different markets around the world. In an industry that's all about scale, One Ford is probably saving millions.
Pro likes Ford's long-term picture
Pro likes Ford's long-term picture

He leaves the Dearborn, Mich., company with a popular line of small and midsize cars, an array of alternative-power offerings and two key products, both radically redone — the 2015 Mustang and the 2015 aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup.

He's retiring, but he hasn't discounted the possibility that he'll show up as CEO somewhere else. We'll see.

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-- By Chris Woodyard of USA Today