Alan Mulally is making a big name for himself in an industry he is a stranger to, or was until recently. I first heard from him six years ago when he was a big boss at Boeing describing the company's new 787 plane, the so-called Dreamliner.
He was pitching the idea of fast but subsonic travel in a plane designed to deploy new materials such as carbon fibre to fly passengers point to point across the world.
This was a substantial and expensive challenge to what Boeing's great rival Airbus was planning: the new superjumbo A380, shifting big numbers of passengers to the world's biggest airport hubs, the only ones equipped to deal with the big new planes.
Substantially different ideas about the future of flying; then both of the planes hit big trouble in development which has caused long delays in delivery to the many airliners who have ordered one or other or both the aircraft.
Alan Mulally spent 37 years at Boeing. But shortly after I heard from him in 2004, he was headhunted to tackle a great big non–aviation industry problem: in Detroit the Ford Motor Company was in deep deep trouble, and Alan Mulally was hired by the chairman Bill Ford as chief executive officer to save an American icon from extinction.
Ford was haemorrhaging cash in its operations all over the world. It was a crisis, but with hindsight a lucky one. Ford was in such trouble in 2006 that it had to go to the banks to raise loans totalling $23 billion.
Which meant that it had its future plans in place when the credit crunch recession began to bite hard two years later.
Ford's great rivals Chrysler and General Motors were forced into bankruptcy; while at Ford Alan Mulally was already able to start tackling the deep and longstanding problems of the auto industry, debt-burdened but not bankrupt.
It has been an energetic four years. Mr Mulally has sold off Ford subsidiaries such as Jaguar, Volvo and Land Rover, to focus management attention on the core Ford brand names.
He has tried to break down the huge baronies and fiefdoms that dominate the car industry.
He drives Ford with a chartroom of more than 200 ever changing cards pinned on the wall, reporting the key data. He has instituted a traffic light system each card is coloured to flag up problems.
It took a culture change to get leading mangers to admit that their area of responsibility had problems, even when the company was leaking money like a sieve. In the face of an already deeply ingrained meetings culture at Ford he instituted a new one: a weekly Thursday morning meeting when from all over the world a wide range of Ford top executives report in and share the latest news. "I wake up at 4am on Thursdays excited about it", he told me.
This is straightforward stuff, but straightforward stuff is difficult to do in a business as suffused with it sown glory as the car industry has been for decades.
Alan Mulally has boiled down his approach to the rejuvenation of Ford to a laminated business card; he pulled a rather battered one out of his pocket and signed it for me:
The message is One Ford; a singlemindedness that the company and the industry has talked about for a long time, but never managed to achieve.
But Ford was facing a crisis when Alan Mulally took on the top job, and a crisis is a wonderful opportunity to get change done at a pace impossible in normal times. He says he has even got the autoworkers' union on side.
In the face of vast economic uncertainty in America, global competition and the recent emergence of China as the world's biggest car marketplace, Ford still has a long way to go before the debts are repaid and the business is out of the woods. Some observers express surprise that Mr Mulally has apparently achieved so much as a car industry outsider.
But is that really so surprising? For decades the car makers in Detroit behaved as if nobody but them knew what car buyers wanted. Meanwhile the Japanese and then other overseas manufacturers were creeping closer to the heartland of the US auto industry, even as Detroit did not take the competition seriously.
Being a Detroit outsider gave Mr Mulally a sporting chance of rescuing an American idol. At least for the time being.
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