G.M.’s Rival Could Teach It a Lesson: Ford’s Turnaround Carries Lessons for G.M.

NoceraHere’s a brief excerpt from an article by Joe Nocera for The New York Times during which he suggests what valuable lessons G.M. and its CEO, Mary Barra, can learn from Ford, led by CEO can learn from CEO Alan Mulally when he led “The Fight to Save Ford.” To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

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“How do you change the culture?” the Today show’s Matt Lauer asked Mary Barra, the chief executive of General Motors, earlier this week. “How do you go about communicating to the people who have been part of the history of this company for years that things must change?”

In the three weeks since Anton Valukas, the former federal prosecutor, issued his blistering report about the company’s decade-long failure to properly handle the Chevy Cobalt ignition switch problems, that has become the burning question surrounding the company. The idea that a “new, improved” General Motors emerged from the company’s 2009 brush with bankruptcy has been exposed as bogus. In his report, Valukas talks about the “G.M. nod” (that’s when managers nod in agreement about a course of action, but then do nothing) and the “G.M. salute” (arms folded and pointed outward to others, as if to say that the problem is someone else’s responsibility.) Bureaucratic malaise still rules. Silos still reign. So does a certain unjustified arrogance.

“When I was covering G.M., I would ask them sometimes how they were so sure a plan or product would work,” recalls Bryce Hoffman, a former reporter for The Detroit News. “They would say, ‘We’re G.M. It will work.’ ”

I had called Hoffman less to talk about General Motors than to ask him about Ford. Two years ago, Hoffman published a book entitled American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company. Mulally, who became Ford’s chief executive in 2006 after a long career at Boeing, did indeed save Ford, in no small part by doing exactly what Barra hopes to do at G.M.: He changed Ford’s culture. The company went from losing $12.7 billion in 2006 to making $8.6 billion last year. On the eve of Mulally’s retirement — July 1 is supposed to be his last day — it seemed like a good idea to take a look back at how he did it. There might be some lessons for G.M.

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Here’s a direct link to the complete article.

Joe Nocera is an Op-Ed columnist. Before joining “The Opinion Pages” in April 2011, he wrote the Talking Business column for The New York Times each Saturday and was a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine. In addition to his work at The Times, he serves as a regular business commentator for NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon.

To learn more about him, please click here.

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  1. […] recall of more than 20 million vehicles and fatal damage to GM’s brand. There is plenty GM could learn from Ford‘s turn around. But, what was so successful about Ford’s turnaround? What can be skimmed […]

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