When Ford's president and CEO Alan Mulally, a remarkable ex-Boeing "lifer" arrived to orchestrate the Ford revival his predecessor Bill Ford had begun but lacked the chutzpah to carry through, people were sceptical.
Who was this ever-smiling zealot whose super-simple "OneFord" plan involved selling off the family silver, a strategy that flew directly in the faces not only of his recent Ford predecessors, but of most of the industry's other big names who had spent the previous decade amassing collections of car marques?
However, Mulally's move has proved gloriously correct. The Ford chief has been depicted on the cover of Fortune magazine as "Ford's Comeback Kid". Mulally has achieved in three years even more than he promised. In the latest quarter of trading, every single Ford division was profitable. One year ago, that was the stuff of dreams. Mulally's technique is simple: a "laser focus" on a big but simple plan. Take an excellent car creation system in Europe and spread the same excellent products around the world, with all the scale economiies that implies. It means management is busy, but not diverted or overstretched. However, the real secret weapon is Mulally himself. He has an extraordinary, infectious enthusiasm which even sceptics find hard to resist. With a wide smile and simple words ("The new Fous is so, so cool...) he encourages his troops to yearn for success. The optimism at Ford - often in the past a hotbed of pessimism - is palpable. People believe recovery is coming, and the scores are starting to be posted on the board. Mulally's zeal is too much to resist. If they're not at it already, psychologists would do well to study this remarkable man's communication technique, which has already turned 200,000 employees and customers to his point of view. The downside in all this is that Mulally, though vital, is only a year or two from retirement age. When he goes, though Ford is fully equipped with highly able people, there won't be an yone like Alan to take his place. The obvious hope is that by the time he decides to go - and most people are hoping he'll stay after he turns 65 - things will be running so well, they'll stay that way. But one US exec, a Mulally disciple, speaks for the body of Blue Oval employees: "Alan's retirement? I'm refusing to think about it".
I'll bet the Ford family feels the same...