One of the most valuable shifts in business communication is taking place on Twitter: a global audience can now learn from industry leaders and apply high-level advice in real time. At Amazon.com, there are 28,242 books written specifically on business strategy. Since it’s impossible to read and filter all that advice, there are competitive advantages to connecting with executives and learning from a primary source. And even more valuable to have access to a Fortune 10 executive’s insight.
On March 31, Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mulally joined members of his management team at the New York International Auto Show for 30 minutes on Twitter. Pictured with Digital Communications Director Scott Monty and fresh from co-chairing the prestigious China Development Forum (CDF) in Beijing, Mulally was available for conversation and questions. Named one of Barron’s World’s Greatest CEOs in March, Alan Mulally’s accessibility defines Ford’s corporate culture.
Understanding the value of first-person business knowledge, I sent a tweet focused on his business strategy at Ford: Describe your leadership style & how has it helped you make difficult decisions at Ford more palatable?
In a few minutes, his reply to me appeared on Twitter: Focus on the customer, have a compelling vision, relentless implementation, great team. ^AM TY!
An executive with 224,000 employees worldwide, the 9th largest company in the United States and the 17th largest in the world, invited questions from interested people on Twitter. Wow! It’s a new communication model that levels the learning field. I would hope that Scott Monty was flooded with inquisitive tweets for his CEO. Every business student, small business owner, car dealer, and American taxpayer should be interested in the real-time replies from one of the brightest CEOs in the world. Alan Mulally’s response is a business strategy lesson in 140 characters and is every bit as applicable to small business as it is to the Fortune 10.
Focus on the customer
Common sense? It doesn’t take an algorithm to understand what clients and customers need. But it does require a conversation with the customer. The American automotive industry knows that men and women from every culture want safe, SYNCed, energy-smart, fun-to-drive transportation. The result of Ford’s new obsessive focus on the customer is a litany of consumer and industry recognition for the Fusion, Focus, Transit Connect, Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, and the social media barnstormer—the Fiesta—with 50,000 hand raisers interested in the vehicle before it touched American soil. It’s a reminder to even the smallest business: Never lose track of why you exist, and who you really serve. Alan Mulally understands there is no such principle as Too big to fail or Too small to matter—and that applies to people as well as corporations.
Have a compelling vision
A quick search on YouTube uncovers the Boeing-turned-Ford exec’s passion and vision. His One Ford mantra is unmistakable, and his executive presence and congeniality nearly compel you to say: Where do I sign up? Mulally is laser-focused on restoring Ford to its global leader status. And yet, to reach that finish line, he realizes they can never take their eyes off the true enablers of this success—the consumers from Pittsburgh to Beijing.
Execution is critical. Arriving in 2006, Mulally stopped the music at Ford, leaving entire badges and brands without a chair. He leveraged the Blue Oval for the biggest home improvement loan in American history at $26 billion and committed to fair negotiation with the United Auto Workers. Despite near-crippling debt, the company unleashed its best innovators, engineers, and collaborators to bring it through the downturn, and without a cent of government funding. Unlike Columbus who chronicled his journey in two distinct diaries—one for his actual coordinates and time at sea and an altered version for the passengers to believe—Mulally operates with one transparent journal for the entire international corps. His strength of purpose is contagious and built on a deep faith in the endurance and success of American manufacturing.
Although the CEO is often acclaimed as singlehandedly turning around the Dearborn behemoth, the reality is that he needs passion equal to his purpose from every team player—the manufacturers, suppliers, dealers, engineers, technologists, marketers, and most importantly, the consumers. Acknowledging the responsibilities and risks ahead, he embraces the role of Coach, not Superhero. “It is an honor to serve,” Mulally says with all the trustworthiness of a Boy Scout. If the best CEOs combine “extreme personal humility with intense professional will,” then Ford’s captain is a Best Practices for every business man and woman.
There is a powerful business message in Alan Mulally’s 140 character tweet; and he shared it with the classroom of the future—the public timeline. “Nearly all men can stand the test of adversity, but if you really want to test a man’s character, give him power,” said Abraham Lincoln.
2008 and 2009 delivered unprecedented adversity to Ford and every corner of global manufacturing and enterprise, but the company’s profitable results in 2009 and the ensuing months showcase the tenacity, wisdom, and character of its chief executive and his team. The Ford strategy? You can find it in his tweet.