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The grill emblem on the Ford Taurus X during its debut at the Chicago Auto Show in 2007.

John Gress/Reuters/John Gress/Reuters

When Alan Mulally took the helm at a failing Ford Motor Company without any previous experience in the auto industry, the company's prospects were dim. But the successful transformation he oversaw led J. P. Donlon, editor of Chief Executive magazine, to tease out some lessons that include:

Focus is everything: Ford had dissipated its efforts across too many brands. Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin were sold, and Mercury closed, placing the focus squarely on the Ford brand. The "One Ford" strategy, as it was known, encouraged everyone to focus their energies on what was important.

Simplify: Instead of issuing an elaborate mission statement nobody would read he had plastic cards distributed to everyone, headlined "One Ford" and listing four expected behaviours on one side and the revised direction for the company on the other. If a Ford employee doesn't have a copy, Mr. Mulally produces a spare from his wallet.

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Reward transparency and collaboration: At one of the early meetings, all the top executives reported that everything was fine. Not true, of course, but also not uncommon behaviour in the 'Protect Your Turf' culture. But then Mark Fields, operations chief of the Americas, raised his hand and pointed out a defective part threatened to delay the launch of an important new vehicle. The room fell silent at the heresy. Except for Mr. Mulally, who looked at the truth-teller and the others in the room, and then began to clap. The message was clear, and soon the rivals in the executive "team" started to share sensitive information and help one another, becoming a team.

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