Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company

Rate this book
At the end of 2008, Ford Motor Company was just months away from running out of cash. With the auto industry careening toward ruin, Congress offered all three Detroit automakers a bailout. General Motors and Chrysler grabbed the taxpayer lifeline, but Ford decided to save itself. Under the leadership of charismatic CEO Alan Mulally, Ford had already put together a bold plan to unify its divided global operations, transform its lackluster product lineup, and overcome a dys­functional culture of infighting, backstabbing, and excuses. It was an extraordinary risk, but it was the only way the Ford family—America’s last great industrial dynasty—could hold on to their company.
Mulally and his team pulled off one of the great­est comebacks in business history. As the rest of Detroit collapsed, Ford went from the brink of bankruptcy to being the most profitable automaker in the world.
American Icon is the compelling, behind-the-scenes account of that epic turnaround. On the verge of collapse, Ford went outside the auto industry and recruited Mulally—the man who had already saved Boeing from the deathblow of 9/11—to lead a sweeping restructuring of a company that had been unable to overcome decades of mismanage­ment and denial. Mulally applied the principles he developed at Boeing to streamline Ford’s inefficient operations, force its fractious executives to work together as a team, and spark a product renaissance in Dearborn. He also convinced the United Auto Workers to join his fight for the soul of American manufacturing.
Bryce Hoffman reveals the untold story of the covert meetings with UAW leaders that led to a game-changing contract, Bill Ford’s battle to hold the Ford family together when many were ready to cash in their stock and write off the company, and the secret alliance with Toyota and Honda that helped prop up the Amer­ican automotive supply base.
In one of the great management narratives of our time, Hoffman puts the reader inside the boardroom as Mulally uses his celebrated Business Plan Review meet­ings to drive change and force Ford to deal with the painful realities of the American auto industry.
Hoffman was granted unprecedented access to Ford’s top executives and top-secret company documents. He spent countless hours with Alan Mulally, Bill Ford, the Ford family, former executives, labor leaders, and company directors. In the bestselling tradition of Too Big to Fail and The Big Short, American Icon is narrative nonfiction at its vivid and colorful best.

432 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2012

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Bryce G. Hoffman

3 books17 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
2,425 (55%)
4 stars
1,497 (33%)
3 stars
414 (9%)
2 stars
49 (1%)
1 star
20 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 419 reviews
Profile Image for Danielle.
277 reviews2 followers
March 20, 2015
I had to read this book for one of my MBA classes and was not expecting to like it much given my total lack of interest in the auto industry, Ford, Detroit, etc. As it turned out, this is probably one of the most inspiring books I've ever read, and I found it to be both incredibly compelling and very fast-paced to read. I've never wanted to be a CEO (okay I still don't), but after reading about what Alan Mulally did at Ford I kinda sorta wanted to be one for a hot second. This is a remarkable story of leadership and massive cultural change throughout a huge organization. It was also really interesting to learn the whole back story of what Ford had done to put itself in the position of being the only one of the Big 3 to avoid bankruptcy and a government bail-out during the financial crisis. Bryce Hoffman is a fantastic writer, and I was super impressed by his organization of the narrative and his prose. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Jean.
3 reviews1 follower
April 21, 2014
I don't know if the author intended this book to be a solid piece of propaganda for Ford, but it worked! I listened to the book on Audiobook and enjoyed every minute. The story is well-told and Alan Mulally quickly becomes a likable hero to the reader. I related to Mulally's approach to people and his humility and genuineness (is that a word?). Hearing about his tendency to laugh and joke amongst his employees who didn't even realize who he was helped me identify one of my favorite characteristics of a good leader - sincerity and authenticity. The leadership lessons I pulled included the importance of transparency from the top down, the importance of a clear mission statement with strategy, tactics, and metrics tied directly into one another, and honesty when measuring oneself against those metrics. I thought it was important that Mulally didn't punish execs when they honestly revealed their units weren't meeting standard, rather he rallied to their side to figure out how the rest of the team could help them come up to standard. This example is important - people should be free to fail, but then we must help them identify why they have failed and guide them to success.

Hearing all of the changes Ford implemented before the other automakers were even acknowledging they were in trouble gave me a great deal of respect for the Ford Corporation. I have started taking note of their commercials and their cars on the road again, after previously discounting them. On that count, the propaganda worked!

Congratulations to Alan Mulally on a historic turnaround and to the Ford Corporation for their diligence in pursuing excellence. This was a worthwhile and recommended read.
Profile Image for Patrick Eckhardt.
64 reviews3 followers
August 12, 2019
Very well written and engaging, but ultimately it's a love letter to unfettered capitalism, unbalanced corporate executives, and the poor plight of independently wealthy individuals who stock isn't worth quite as much as it once was.

In the moment, it's an empathetic struggle to save something important. When I take a step back, it's sort of just the story of people getting paid millions and millions of dollars to solve the problems created by other multi-millionaires. Definitely some worthwhile leadership takeaways, but probably not a 400 page book for all that.
Profile Image for James Korsmo.
463 reviews19 followers
April 5, 2012
Simply put, this book is a page-turner. And that's not what you'd normally expect from a business book. But there's a great story here, well told, that excites the mind.

There hasn't really been a bigger story in the last half-decade than the economy, and along with the banking and housing sectors, America's "big three" automotive manufacturers have been key players in that story. But amid an economy in decline and two cross-town rivals falling toward default, Ford managed to plot a different course. This book is the story of that startling rebirth. It briefly chronicles the history of Ford, appraising its ups and downs and the resulting corporate culture its history had created. And it looks at the trouble it was facing (along with the rest of the auto industry) in the mid 2000s. But things took a decisive change for Ford when Bill Ford Jr. volunteered to step down and CEO and bring in outside help. And the person he tapped for that responsibility was Alan Mullaly, a top executive who had just led a resurgence at Boeing.

American Icon is really three books in one: It is an interesting piece of modern American history, chronicling the inside workings of a key economic player in the midst of historic economic troubles throughout the country and the world. It is also a business book, with thoughtful and inspiring ideas for rethinking corporate culture, business workflows, and entrenched mindsets with cross-functional teams, openness, responsibility, and a carefully focused but always updating plan. And third, it is an interesting biography of both Bill Ford Jr. and Alan Mullaly, giving insight into their personalities and approaches to business.

Mulally's ideas of emphasizing simplicity, comporting vision with reality, and demanding open collaboration and communication among team members worked wonders at Ford. He paints a compelling picture of how a corporate structure (at whatever level) could work constructively and agilely to effect productive change and breed success. I often had to put the book down so I could jot down ideas for making some of his principles work in my own workplace. This business book almost pulls new ideas out of you by stimulating your thinking; at least, it did for me.

I loved this book, and am happy to enthusiastically recommend it. It's a fascinating case study in successful business coupled with compelling modern history told as a fast-moving story. You will not be bored; in fact, you'll be pulled in to Mulally's vision as you see it unfold before you.
Profile Image for John Elliott.
152 reviews2 followers
January 25, 2019
A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how Mulally and his team saved Ford Motor Company. There were numerous tactical moves involved, but at the end of the day, the turnaround hinged on three basic elements:

1. Having a clear point of view about the future of Ford.
2. Having a clear plan for getting to that future reality.
3. Smart people relentlessly working together to execute that plan.

Mulally (rightfully) gets much of the credit for the turnaround, but Bill Ford is the unsung hero in my opinion. He showed tremendous self-awareness and humility when he voluntarily stepped down as CEO, brought in Mulally from the outside, and then gave him all the support he needed. A case study in good leadership and the power of organizational health.
568 reviews3 followers
July 30, 2013
Excellent book about the Ford Motor Company, and Alan Mulally's success in bringing the company to profitability. It is especially interesting to me since I have spent most of my adult life either working for or working with this company. It is quite something to have them discussing meetings in the 'glass house' just as you are driving by there on the highway...
Profile Image for Glenn Block.
4 reviews5 followers
September 3, 2019
I read this as part of my MBA course work. It gives a really interesting glimpse into what it takes to turn around a behemoth organization that was the market leader, and then fell to the bottom due to bureaucracy, loss of focus, and forgetting about the customer. What I like in particular about the book is how it gets you into the mind of Mulally and lets you see his thoughts of how to tackle the tremendous rode ahead. The book also gives lots of gems that can be applied in organizations of any size, "Trust the process".
Profile Image for Jago Los.
9 reviews
August 13, 2023
Great book, extremely well-written, inspirational, and gives great insights into the industry of Detroit car manufacturers.
Profile Image for Grant Callen.
45 reviews2 followers
June 15, 2022
This is a compelling story and a wonderful book. As a CEO, I found this inspirational and eminently relevant to my work.
Profile Image for Nabil.
81 reviews7 followers
June 18, 2021
I'm not a big fan of the auto industry, but this was genuinely a fascinating insight into the company. Different to insights into startups or tech companies, it was a unique perspective on a brand I had no opinion on or interest in.

Would recommend for anyone who likes company bio's.
Profile Image for Mark Jr..
Author 6 books337 followers
August 11, 2019
If you’ve ever read David Foster Wallace’s essay on tennis phenom Tracy Austin’s perfunctory, soulless autobiography—all of his incisive comments about that book’s literary style (or lack thereof) could also be made about *American Icon*. The book turns Ford CEO Alan Mulally into an almost impossibly ideal person, and the prose about him is unrelentingly chipper for about 12 hours of reading time.

However… You can’t be an American and not hope for Ford Motor Company to win at the end of the story. Ford is a symbol of American creativity and industry, and of the American open road; and they made the favorite car of a man like me who doesn’t even care about cars—the romantic and muscular 64 1/2 Mustang. So I persevered.

And there really were a few key moments in the story that brought me valuable wisdom. Here are the main two, I think:

1. Alan Mulally insisted that he wanted to know the bad news in each executive’s weekly report for a required, in-person, group meeting. But the PowerPoint graphs from the execs were all a cheery green with no scary red. Only when one executive finally decided to risk his neck and be honest—and Mulally didn’t fire him—could everyone start telling the truth, take responsibility for problems, and work together on fixes. Mulally’s desire to truly know the problems he faced saved his business. He had a personal financial parachute; he didn’t have to accomplish anything to save Ford in order to be well provided for for the rest of his life. But he stepped up and did the hard things necessary. I admired him.

2. Ford accurately read American culture: if they took government bailout money, it would tar their reputation in American minds. Americans believe in the can-do, pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-joints spirit. Ford really did prepare well for the 2008 recession, and Americans recognized their success. And rewarded them for it. Even I, who at the time fully believed I’d never buy a new car and cared little for car brands, remember taking note—and personal pride. Go ‘Murica! (And go Germany: I ultimately bought a Volkswagen. Sorry.)

Though the style of the book is tiresome, and though the book ought to be about a fourth as long, I’m glad I got these little vignettes. So sue me, it’s also fun to have positive feelings about one’s homeland.

Would I recommend reading *American Icon*? If you are paid—like, uh, I was (long story). Would I read it again? As Huxley once said: Ford, no.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 11 books298 followers
May 10, 2019
Our CEO gets the credit for my discovery of American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company, by Bryce G. Hoffman. He mentioned that he was reading it and that he recommended it to all of us.

Hoffman spent 22 years as a newspaper reporter, covering, among other industries, the automobile industry in Detroit. He does more than just report the facts — though he does that, and quite extensively; he also dives into the people who made the story of Ford’s turnaround so impressive.

Alan Mulally, the CEO who’s something of a rock star to those in the business world, becomes more than someone with just the right touch. Hoffman takes readers behind the scenes, into the day-by-day that he faced.

The book, though, doesn’t start with Mulally. It starts with Henry Ford and the company he founded over 100 years ago. Readers get a sweeping view of the history of the company and the limitations placed on it by the people within.

There were all kinds of financial hurdles Ford faced, but what impressed me more than that was the way Mulally combatted the toxic culture Ford had embedded at every level. He didn’t throw up his hands and walk away (and, from the accounts in the book, he wasn’t even tempted!), but dealt with it head-on with optimism.

I couldn’t help but think of some of the toxic cultures I’ve come across in my life, whether in small groups, parishes, or even companies. Mulally reminds me of some of the people I’ve known who seem, at first, to be too good to be true.

Surely they can’t be for real, I’ll think to myself. No one is that nice. And yet, I find, these people are. It’s the light of Christ shining through them; the Holy Spirit at work; the inner glow of what’s possible.

The path to success is one that was worth reading. Hoffman made this book into a cautionary tale, a business case, and a stellar storyline. It’s the kind of book that doesn’t have to be fiction to be a page-turner.
Profile Image for Ben.
969 reviews90 followers
August 2, 2022
This suffers from the usual one-sidedness of business books. Everyone kisses up to their boss. You can easily tell who talked to the author, and who didn't. Hoffman brings zero skepticism to his reporting, even accepting at face value Ford's ridiculous assertions about the cost of Mulally's private jets.

If you can read past this, though, it is an interesting story; and despite the usual flaws it is above average for the genre.

> Mulally piled in with his press aide, Karen Hampton; Ford Americas group controller Bob Shanks; and John Kostiuk, the head of Ford’s motor pool. Bodyguards traveled in two other vehicles ahead and behind Mulally’s Escape. The inconspicuous motorcade spent ten hours on the road, stopping only for bathroom breaks. … Given the security escort the trip required, it probably would have been cheaper to take the Gulfstream. But Ford had learned the hard way that appearance counted for more than reality inside the Beltway. That morning, the automaker announced that it was selling all of its corporate jets.
Profile Image for Ajay Nair.
16 reviews1 follower
February 21, 2022
I personally picked this book after watching a video on Alan Mulally’s talk at Stanford. I couldn’t believe he was the CEO of a manufacturing giant in America. I never heard much about him in between stories about Silicon Valley and Wall Street CEO’s.

This book taught me a great deal on why manufacturing is such a huge deal in an economy, why the big Detroit 3 mattered and how Ford is still an American success story after a century, while it’s neighbors have lost that title.

Alan Mulallys execution style and sticking to basics is inspiring and the Ford story itself speaks volumes about how communities can revive a global brand when it speaks honestly.

Profile Image for Sydney Gard.
10 reviews1 follower
December 29, 2016
I knew essentially nothing about business or cars before reading "American Icon," and while it does not necessarily read "more like a thriller than a business book" like a review on the cover claims, it was mostly easy to read and stay involved in the plot. Seeing Alan Mulally speak a few months ago was cool, but after reading this book it now feels like an honor. This guy is seriously the bomb, and I would definitely recommend this complex, interesting account of how Mulally saved Ford.
11 reviews
January 22, 2014
This is an incredibly vivid view of events that have been a large part of my life for the last several years. It provides a view of the journey many of us in the trenches didn't have. At many times, I found myself comparing my experience against the actions and events described. Everything is consistent with my memory and greatly enhanced my understanding.
50 reviews1 follower
August 1, 2020
Well researched and nicely written history of Ford and Alan Mulally's incredible turn around. I like that Hoffman took the time to highlight the cultural aspects and not just the business and fiscal decisions. As it goes, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."
Profile Image for Csaba Hartmann.
36 reviews4 followers
June 14, 2020
Great book - very exciting to understand the history of Ford and also learn how Alan Mulally saved the company. Lots of action in the book that makes you feel it’s hard to put it down
Profile Image for Veronica Foley.
310 reviews3 followers
July 10, 2020
Unnecessarily detailed. Very long. It is written like a report for school.
Profile Image for Venkatesh.
14 reviews8 followers
July 12, 2020
Such a fascinating read. Every MBA grad or anyone interested in business management should read this. I hate reading business books but this seemed more like a 'business' thriller.
611 reviews1 follower
April 12, 2021
I can't remember why I put this book on my "to read" list. It was probably recommended by Goodreads, which, by the way, has diminished it's capacity in the browzing department, and the statistics of my personal reading too. (The most read author for one) Anyway, I did enjoy this book. It is about the times Ford Motor Co. went through in the years 2005 through 2009 for the most part. That was the bulk of the Great Recession. All three of the American car companies were in peril at that time. The story centers on the Ceo Bill Ford hired to get them on the right path in 2006 (Alan Mulally) . I think it is well written and the subject is a good one. It is a success story which I consider a plus. If you enjoy reading about big businesses and some of their inner workings I think you would like this book. It is researched thoroughly and the timeline is a bit flexible but for the most part follows in a normal pattern.
204 reviews3 followers
November 17, 2020

A more tolerant attitude to failure can also help companies to avoid destruction.
When Alan Mulally became boss of an ailing Ford Motor Company in 2006 one of the first things he did was demand that his executives own up to their failures.

He asked managers to Colour-Code their progress reports—ranging from green for good to red for trouble. At one early meeting he expressed astonishment at being confronted by a sea of green, even though the company had lost several billion dollars in the previous year.

Ford's recovery began only when he got his managers to admit that things weren't entirely green.
Profile Image for Vivek Padiyan.
28 reviews1 follower
March 12, 2023
Doesn't feel like a non-fiction business book at all - the narrative is so fluid and engaging that this could've been an Arthur Hailey novel about the automobile industry and a turnaround in the midst of a crisis! My only piece of criticism would be perhaps this book could've talked about the downsides as well of Mullaly's leadership (if any, else this just seems too good to be true). Other than that, a solid book for anyone looking to read a good business turnaround story. And further, if there was ever a book that inspires you enough to work towards accomplishing real stuff at your job or enjoy the journey while at it, this is it!
Profile Image for Barry Bridges.
425 reviews2 followers
July 29, 2018
In the time of Make America Great Again, it is refreshing to read the story of someone who actually did just that, delivered more than hot air, and smiled while doing it. Alan Mulally not only turned around one iconic American company (Boeing), he jumped in to dysfunctional and about to fail Ford Motor Company to repeat the process, proving he is a genuine American Hero. Hoffman delivers an insider's view into the process, the pain, and the people in an enjoyable, readable format.

I learned so much while reading almost nonstop, taking lessons to work daily, adjusting my style and approach to challenges in my work space. This is a book on management, leadership, and changing corporate culture. Mulally is the total package and Hoffman is the talented delivery person.
Profile Image for Chelsea Lawson.
287 reviews29 followers
July 23, 2021
Interesting story about Ford's comeback from the brink of collapse under the weight of its past mistakes and the environment of the 2008 recession. CEO Alan Mulally was undoubtedly the hero of the book and his leadership is indeed inspirational ([To succeed in business], you need a point of view about the future, a really good plan to deliver that future, and then relentless implementation). Yet, as the author points out at the end, the story would also not have been possible without Bill Ford's humility and self-awareness in stepping aside and his demonstrations of support to the Ford family and other key players, Mark Fields' Way Forward plan which paved the way for Mulally's plan, Don Leclair's foresight in securing the financing package when they did, and others.
18 reviews
June 29, 2018
Loved this book. Such a great American business story, probably the best business-focused book I have read. The book is very well researched but reads like a thriller. I couldn't put it down. I loved how the author went into detail about the problems at Ford and what Mulally did to address them. It is incredible how Mulally turned Ford around.
Profile Image for David Cupitt.
16 reviews
August 30, 2019
Probably wanted to rate it 3.5, better than good, not quite great.

The first third of the book is a textbook case study of how to run a company into the ground. As Alan says, they were in the process of going out of business for the last 20 years before he came on board. This is followed by a case study on how to run a company well e.g. make high quality products that people want to buy. Who knew?

The book sort of glossed over the 10’s of thousands of American workers that got let go as part of Alan’s plan, and in the current age of Trump and protectionism it felt some analysis might have been missing here. I bet most of those workers voted for what Trump had to offer.

It was very interesting however, and it’s amazing that what he managed to set in motion weathered the storm of the GFC. If not for the GFC the author probably would not have had enough material for a book.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Kosh Koshover.
330 reviews2 followers
April 20, 2018
Well written and fascinating to read, maybe a touch too easy going to Ford, but overall an interesting book about an amazing corporate turn around during the most significant economical crisis in decades.
Profile Image for Leif Almberg.
9 reviews
November 5, 2020
One of the most exciting and interesting books that I have ever read. More intense than a thriller, more breathtaking than a horror book.
Amazing leadership, amazing turnaround, at the worst of times, written as a suspense novel. This book has it all. Highly recommended!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 419 reviews

Join the discussion

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.