By Patricia Sellers
At Ernst & Young's Strategic Growth Forum in Palm Desert, California, I'm with 1,700 entrepreneurs, investors and other business folks who, you would think, would prefer to schmooze with celebs like Google's (GOOG) Sergey Brin, Amazon.com's (AMZN) Jeff Bezos or other tech icons. It's odd that the Masters of the Industrial Universe are the stars here, sharing business and career lessons.
At dinner Tuesday night, I sat with two of the top-billed speakers: General Electric (GE) vice chairman John Rice and Bob Nardelli, the former CEO of Home Depot (HD) and Chrysler. Nardelli is now busy revamping hard-asset businesses -- like paper and gun companies -- for private equity giant Cerberus. Rice, meanwhile, is getting ready to move to Hong Kong to accelerate GE's growth in developing markets and, he told me, spread the authority that inevitably concentrates close to headquarters at GE and most other big companies.
Most Fortune 500 bosses are itching to act entrepreneurially, and the wisest one here may be be Bill Ford, who pulled off one of the the greatest turnarounds in corporate history. The 53-year-old great-grandson of Ford Motor's (F) founder told interviewer Charlie Rose about going to the board four years ago and saying, "I need help." Bill Ford was then chairman, CEO and president of the giant family business. He was willing to cede any of his titles because, as he told the Ford directors, "I'm going to be with this company for the rest of my life."
Bill Ford and the board recruited Alan Mulally from Boeing (BA). By slashing costs and radically simplifying operations, Mulally delivered $7 billion in profits in the first three quarters of 2010 -- vs. $14.6 billion in losses in 2008. Bill Ford's lesson? "If you don't take advantage of the worst times to do the most distasteful things, you're not going to get them done."
He added, "If anything good has come out of this, there's a recognition in Washington and on Main Street that a manufacturing base matters a lot." Ford said he's bullish on U.S. manufacturing "getting respect" again -- and the company is doing its part. The new Explorer is being produced in Chicago and will be exported to 93 countries.
The audience yesterday gave Bill Ford a standing ovation. And Fortune.com readers, it's worth noting, voted Mulally 2010 Businessperson of the Year. He garnered 94% of the votes in a face-off with Apple's (AAPL) Steve Jobs. The reader poll is one component in Fortune's selection of Businessperson of the Year, which will be announced Nov. 18th. But regardless of the winner, it's clear: America's industrial bosses are getting back their mojo.
"When Ed Whitacre decides, it's not negotiable. If he decides against you, you're done."
--Coca-Cola (KO) exec Wendy Clark, about General Motors' (GM) new CEO, whom she worked for when he headed AT&T (ATT). Today, the GM board ousted CEO Fritz Henderson, who was in the post just eight months, and installed Whitacre, GM's chairman, as the new chief executive.
No doubt, Whitacre had a key role in the power shift.
And hearing MOREPatricia Sellers - Dec 1, 2009 6:11 PM ET
"The future of transportation will be a blend of things like Zipcar, public transportation, and private car ownership. Not only do I not fear that, but I think it's a great opportunity for us to participate in the changing nature of car ownership."
-- Bill Ford, Ford's (F) executive chairman, in the "The Best New Idea in Business," Fortune's cover story about Zipcar. Writer Paul Keegan tells how the nine-year-old car-sharing service MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Aug 31, 2009 6:37 PM ET
by Patricia Sellers
You might call Al Koch the world's biggest trash collector. As bankrupt General Motors (GM) splits into two parts -- New GM, containing Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC, and Old GM, containing designated bad assets such as Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer, Saab -- Koch is the hired gun who's supposed to create value from that latter lot.
Bringing "New GM" out of bankruptcy will be difficult enough. Why would anyone MOREPatricia Sellers - Jun 1, 2009 2:41 PM ET
"How to find a job." That's the cover story in the new Fortune, out this week.
Here's one place to find a job: Workout firms that help companies in trouble. Fred Crawford, the CEO of AlixPartners, came by Fortune's offices late last week and talked about his buoyant business. "We have 850 people, and we've been growing 20% to 30% a year for the past decade. We think that's sustainable."
The elite MOREPatricia Sellers - Mar 31, 2009 2:55 PM ET
We love this ad:
"You can file our obituary where the sun don't shine. It's times like these that raise the important questions. Do you cower, or do you live free. Do you succumb to fear and doubt, or do you seize the throttle and give it a fearless twist forward. From where we sit in the saddle, we see American companies and good old American ingenuity wrenching the life back MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Mar 30, 2009 6:46 PM ET
Barack Obama's hair is turning gray. The New York Times reported the other day that a President typically ages two years for every year in the job. Thank goodness our new President is only 47 years old. The way things are going right now, I suspect he'll age twice as fast as other Presidents.
We learned this week that things are worse than we thought. General Electric (GE) CEO Jeff Immelt, MOREPatricia Sellers - Mar 6, 2009 1:02 PM ET
I was in California this past week and I'm happy to report that the Golden State did not fall into the Pacific Ocean.
It seemed it might, as inches of rain drenched Silicon Valley and the state government fought off insolvency. What a disaster California is right now, even after the legislature yesterday approved a plan to close a $42 billion budget deficit and end the "fiscal emergency" that the action-hero MOREPatricia Sellers - Feb 20, 2009 1:51 PM ET
By Jessica Shambora
It's Christmas week, always a quiet time at workplaces across the country. But this holiday is anything but typical. The quiet will stretch way beyond Christmas at many offices and factories this year.
No surprise, the Big Three automakers are temporarily shutting North American plants, in numbers correlating to their varying degrees of peril. Chrysler closed all 30 of its plants for a month. General Motors (GM) followed suit MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Dec 22, 2008 3:27 PM ET
"You think I would have gone through what I did the last two months if I didn't want to stay?"
-- General Motors (GM) chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner, reiterating today that he's determined to keep his job. In exchange for a $13.4 billion rescue package (which will come from the government's $700 bllion TARP fund aimed at banks and Wall Street firms), executives at GM and Chrysler agreed to limits MOREPatricia Sellers - Dec 19, 2008 6:39 PM ET
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