Mulally, an executive with Boeing before joining Ford in 2006, said the company was hemorrhaging money when he came on board.
“When I accepted Bill’s (Ford) offer, the first forecast I saw for profitability for the Ford Motor Company for 2006 — this is September — was a $17 billion loss,” Mulally said. “And we achieved it. Now, you can run out of money really fast losing $17 billion a year. And so this is where the parallels of Wade Ford come in and why Wade Ford is the very best example of the Ford Motor Company, not only the last eight years but also before it.”
Twelve years ago Steven Ewing sold his Ford franchise in Pennsylvania and bought the Wade Ford dealership, located off South Cobb Drive by King Springs Road.
The dealership started out in Atlanta in the 1930s before moving to Smyrna in the 1980s. Ewing said it was ranked No. 12 in the Southeast last month for total sales. He sells about 1,500 used cars and 1,400 new ones a year. Eight month ago, he gutted the dealership building and gave the 40,000-square foot structure a $2 million renovation.
The building was filled with Ford executives, including a member of the Ford family, on Friday night, toasting the re-opening among the fresh-cut flowers, catering, music, candles and even an ice sculpture of the Wade Ford sign.
Cutting ties with Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo and Mazda
Taking the stage and giving Ewing a kiss of affection, Mulally recounted a golf trip he took with a select group of Ford dealers, including Ewing, after he became CEO.
“That whole time we laid out the complete strategy of the transformation of Ford with the best Ford store owners in the world, and that’s where we decided that we were going to focus on the Ford brand and the Lincoln brand. We divested Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo, Mazda and decided to discontinue Mercury and focus 100 percent of all of our resources and all of our attention on Ford and Lincoln,” Mulally said. “We also decided — and Steve was very vocal and articulate — that we should have a complete family of vehicles for all of our consumers, small, medium and large, and cars, utilities and trucks, and Ford really hadn’t made that commitment. And then Steve proceeded to explain to us that we probably needed to be best in class, not just a fast follower, but best in class on every vehicle that we make in terms of quality, fuel efficiency, safety, really smart design and of course the very best value.”
Mulally said the group of golfers decided Ford was more than just selling cars and trucks — it was a business that contributed to economic development, energy independence and environmental sustainability.
Ewing said he’s convinced Mulally saved Ford Motor Company by restructuring it. One change he made was with the vice presidents that were over Ford of Europe, Ford of Mexico, Ford of South America and Ford of Asia.
“Well, nobody talked to each other,” Ewing said. “Alan got everybody to communicate. If you had a great design, share it with us. We’ll build cars in North America the same way. If you have a great design in South America that works, we’ll share that. Alan brought everybody together for the better.”
Ford takes no bailout
Mulally was also able to raise the capital at a time when the company needed to ride out the recession.
Under Mulally’s watch, Ford was the only major American car manufacturer to avoid a government bailout, a point Elena Ford, granddaughter of Ford Motor Company president Henry Ford II and the great-great granddaughter of company founder Henry Ford, was asked about.
Elena Ford, who lives in Detroit, said Ewing is a friend.
“We talked about it late last year, and he mentioned he was redoing his facility, and I said if you’re redoing your facility, it’s really important to you, then it’s really important to me, and I want to be there for you when you open it. I think it looks phenomenal. It’s beautiful,” she said.
Asked about Ford not taking a government bailout, Elena Ford said, “I think what’s important about Ford is we really are a company about surviving through good times and bad with our dealers, and our dealers are really a face to the customer, and we really were going to figure out how to get it done and make sure that our dealers were really thriving through good times and bad. And you know, we didn’t take the money, yes correct, but we really wanted to survive through downturns. And that’s really the most important thing and investing in facilities like Steve Ewing has done here and serving the customer.”
Elena Ford is a vice president in the company. “It’s very important to serve the customer and that’s what Steve is doing,” she said. “He’s giving the customers of Atlanta and the greater suburbs here an incredible experience in his facility, he’s freshened it. But it’s not about the hardware, it’s about how he treats his customers. He’s personal, he knows their name, he takes care of his people in his store, the people who work here, they all know him by name, he probably knows the stories about all their families. He has everybody here, people from the local police department to the families of the people who work here, and that’s what makes an incredible person. Steve’s an incredible person, and that’s what makes this an incredible dealership.”
From Model T to Eisenhower’s highway system
U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Atlanta), a customer of Ewing’s, spoke to the audience about how the automobile transformed the country.
“What made the middle class, what was the fulcrum of the middle class, was the vision of one Henry Ford,” Scott said. “His vision was that this was a mass consumption society, and ‘I want to make an automobile for mass consumption.’ It set the template. It was the Model T. And Henry Ford decided at the very beginning, ‘I want to make a car that every single American family can own and ride in.’ If it were not for that we would not have had the expressway system that President Eisenhower put together. It all started with that kind of visionary.”
Scott also said he was aware of the problem with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s threat to eliminate dealers’ flexibility to discount the interest rate offered to consumers to finance vehicle purchases.
“We want to let you know that we are going to make sure that the CFPB backs off of that threat, and we’re going to solve that for you. Because ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you, the auto dealers not just here, but in so many of our smaller communities, they are the solid rock in these communities, and we need to make sure that we do not have any stumbling blocks in the way of dealers being able to stay in business, small ones and large ones. And this threat could be a very serious threat.”
Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon pronounced himself delighted with the renovation.
“The last thing I wanted to see was to have an empty dealership right here that would be more damaging than anything,” Bacon said. “I don’t want to say look up and down Cobb Parkway, but you have a lot of empty dealerships, so when he (Ewing) announced that they were going to reinvest in the city, I couldn’t have been happier. And this is good for Smyrna and they have done it first class. They did it right.”