Tears as Ford's saviour thanks his staff before leaving the driving seat

 

associate business editor

The man who saved Ford claimed the eyes of his British staff were "glistening" yesterday as he said farewell before retiring – even though he had made hundreds of their colleagues redundant.

Alan Mulally, the car maker's chief executive, is on a whistlestop tour of Europe before he retires in July. Within 90 days of joining Ford in 2006 he in effect mortgaged the company's assets for $23.6bn (£14bn) in what was considered a desperate pitch to banks to help him save the group.

Mr Mulally admitted yesterday that Ford had gone "all in" after he joined from the plane maker Boeing. But those loans were negotiated before the credit crunch, so Ford averted the threat of bankruptcy.

By moving early, Ford did not have to ask for bailout funds, unlike its rivals General Motors and Chrysler. It was back in the black by 2009 for the first time since 2005 and Mr Mulally's cultural changes, which included demanding that senior managers help each other out rather than hide problems, have been widely hailed.

However, the huge restructuring meant operations were overhauled worldwide, including in the UK. Last year, 500 workers took voluntary redundancy or early retirement when a transit van factory in Southampton was closed as work was transferred to Turkey. A tool and stamping operation in Dagenham also shut down.

After visiting staff in Essex, including 3,500 at Ford's flagship European research and development facility in Dunton, Mr Mulally said of British factory closures: "We did the right thing. We now have production of the size [that matches] to the real demand. We're about the right size now – actually, growing."

In January, Ford sold 21,792 cars in the UK, up 11 per cent on the start of 2013, and its market share hit 14.1 per cent, 4.5 per cent ahead of its nearest rival.

"First I said to [the UK staff] thank you, then I said congratulations, then I said thank you again and congratulations," he said. "Eyes were glistening… they ought to feel proud."

However, Mr Mulally warned that there was still "overcapacity in Europe", suggesting that some motor companies will either go out of business or be swallowed by rivals unless they go through their own cuts.

Mr Mulally will be succeeded by Mark Fields, the chief operating officer. Mr Fields impressed Mr Mulally as he was the first executive to identify the areas of his own business unit that were going wrong when Ford was spiralling towards a $12.7bn loss in 2007, the worst its history.

Every Thursday, unit heads from all over the world would attend a video conference and present charts showing how their work was progressing. These were bathed in green, suggesting everything was going well, despite the loss-making forecast.

Mr Mulally said he applauded when Mr Fields showed a red block, indicating a problem. Other executives then realised they could help him fix it. The charts soon "looked like a rainbow", as the group worked out how it had lost so much money and what it should do next.

"That was a defining moment, when I knew we'd be OK," he added. "Ford had become a house of brands, very regionalised. They weren't the best in class… Every vehicle from 2008 was best in class."

He also said that Ford was benefiting from the best-planned management transition in the group's history.

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