How Ford rediscovered its purpose

In 2008 three American companies were fighting for their lives.

Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, the Big Three of the automotive industry in US, were running out of cash. To bail them out of the crisis, the government offered them a huge loan. While GM and Chrysler took the offer, Ford declined and bounced back into profitability pulling off a great comeback. This all happened under the leadership of Alan Mulally, a former Boeing executive who stepped in as CEO.

The key to the successful turnaround
Mulally believed “the key to Ford’s future was a return to the principles that had made it so successful in the early days, when Henry Ford was still sitting in the chair he now occupied.”

He dug through Ford’s archives “like a miner convinced that gold was close at hand.” And one day he found an old newspaper ad from 1925.

The ad featured a painting illustrating the original vision of Henry Ford. In the painting, you see a family with their Model T on a hill, and from the hill you could see roads running across the countryside with all kinds of cars on it. Below the painting was the headline — Opening the Highways to All Mankind. Anchored at the bottom was a statement of what Ford stood for.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Take a look at the ad here for yourself.

Lastly, I’d like to share a snippet about purpose from the ad:

An organization, to render any service so widely useful, must be large in scope as well as great in purpose. To conquer the high cost of motoring and to stabilize the factors of production — this is a great purpose.

The language may feel a bit old, but the spirit is still relevant. This document would serve as a polestar to guide Ford’s transformation; it would also be a touchstone to fall back on in times of doubt.

What can we learn from Ford about discovering purpose
Ford’s case study highlights that purpose is vital to success. To discover this purpose, look to the past and revisit your heritage. You’ll likely find important links to (re)connect you to purpose.