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Mulally puts Ford on the motorway to success.

Mulally puts Ford on the motorway to success

Few were surprised when Ford president and chief executive Alan Mulally was recognized as Person of the Year in the third annual Financial Times ArcelorMittal Boldness in Business Awards earlier this year.

The awards recognize companies and individuals who have challenged the status quo and taken calculated risks to drive their business forward in the face of economic uncertainty. Alan Mulally was commended for the turnaround plan that has allowed Ford to emerge from the financial crisis in decent financial shape.

In the March 2011 issue of the Financial Times, Reed describes how Ford head-hunted Mulally in 2006 from his job as executive vice-president of Boeing and president and chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes ? a role in which he was responsible for all the company's commercial-aircraft programmes and related services. Despite having no experience of the automobile industry, he set about diagnosing problems with Ford's structure, business strategy and culture. Essentially, he concluded that the business was overcomplicated and that his priority should be simplification.

An early decision was to sell Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo, and dilute Ford's stake in Mazda, in order to focus on the 85% of the business represented by the Ford brand. He streamlined the range ? why should Ford produce so many different small cars for different markets when Boeing sells essentially a single 737 around the world, he asked?: reduced plant and workforce numbers, curbed duplication and tightened efficiency in everything from purchasing to research and development.

The Person of the Year award judges recognized that Ford did not rely on a government bailout during the 2009 crisis, when the US automobile industry was on the brink of collapse, and that Ford today is the most profitable car company in North America, having managed to change customer perceptions and earn a higher margin per vehicle sold.

But the focus has not been on the numbers alone. Mulally is also an inspirational leader who has defined a simple but powerful mission ? to build higher quality, more fuel-efficient, safer cars ? that employees can rally around. In this way, employees can feel good about their work and proud of their company.

Pride in the business is one thing, but how many of Ford's 180,000 employees around the world would say that they love their company? In Volume 99, Issue 1 of the Journal of Business Ethics, published in March 2011, Argandoña accepts that traditional theories of the firm leave little room for love in business organizations ? perhaps because many believe that such a high human emotion is incompatible with economic efficiency and profit-making. But he advances the view that ?successful, solid, long-lasting business needs to be filled with, and surrounded by, active expressions of love'.

Argandoña argues that organizations are ?human communities' capable of achieving not only such external results as profitability, but also ?internal results of satisfaction and learning, both in technical and moral terms'. In this regard, contends the professor at the IESE Business School at the University of Navarra, love ?can and must exist' in the enterprise.

Praise, camaraderie, wishing a colleague well and doing one's best for the customer could, perhaps, be all be interpreted as examples of love in action. All can benefit individuals and the organization as a whole just as much as their opposites ? criticism and enmity ? can cause harm. The workforce as a whole, like the individuals within it, may be thwarted in love, but maybe that should not prevent them from setting out to achieve it.

On the whole, love is...a pretty good day at the office.