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James Schrager, a professor at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, says Mulally was a "genius" at "working person-to-person on the management side." The CEO helped Ford figure out "who we really are as a company, where we're going to spend all our time and money and what we really have to achieve to be special to our customers."
HE'S BEEN HERE BEFORE: When Ford hired Mulally in 2006, the company was drifting. Its flagship money-makers -trucks and SUVs -- were suffering as consumers sought more fuel-efficient cars to combat rising gas prices. Similarly, Microsoft's still-dominant Windows operating system faces serious headwinds as consumers switch to tablets, a trend that threatens to scuttle its core business providing operating system software for PCs.
"Once something works, it's hard to change your behavior," says analyst Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates Inc. "Microsoft is in the same position. It's running like a billing machine. At some point, they're going to have to add value if they want to generate some more money."
Mulally is already being compared to Lou Gerstner, the former RJR Nabisco CEO who took over as IBM's chief executive in 1993 and -- despite his lack of industry experience- helped transform IBM from a money-losing personal computer maker to a profitable technology services company.
HE KNOWS MICROSOFT AND BALLMER: For a car executive, Mulally has unusually close ties to Microsoft. Microsoft's Windows Embedded software powers the Ford Sync dashboard entertainment system launched during Mulally's tenure.
Technology analyst Rob Enderle says Mulally acted on trends that Microsoft was slow to notice. "Of the car companies, they got mobile (communications) first."
Mulally spent most of his career at Boeing in Seattle, not far from Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Wash.
Ballmer, 57, has said his father worked for Ford for more than 30 years. And Mulally and Ballmer are friends. Ballmer even spoke with Mulally over coffee about a wide-ranging reorganization that Microsoft announced in July.
As a Top 5 holder of Microsoft's shares, Ballmer's support is essential, and Mulally would clearly have it.
In a 2009 contribution to Time magazine's Time 100 issue, Ballmer praised Mulally effusively, saying his support for the auto chief was "both emotional and rational."
"He understands the fundamentals of business success as well as any business leader I know," Ballmer wrote. (continued...)
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