University of Kansas alumnus Alan Mulally is Aviation Week’s 2006 Person of the Year, it was announced in the magazine’s Jan. 1 edition.
Mulally’s move this year from the airline industry and his position as CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes to Ford Motor Co.’s top position did not dissuade magazine editors from honoring the man they say reshaped aircraft engineering.
They lauded Mulally for his uncommon ability to lead, relentless planning and willingness to share responsibility and credit with those around him. “Mulally made Boeing’s vision a global enterprise and, in the process, has set standards for industrial relations in the aviation industry that are widely admired,” the article said.
Mulally’s success has also led to good things for his home state of Kansas, according to Ron Barrett-Gonzalez, associate professor of aerospace engineering.
As the single largest manufacturing employer in Kansas, the aerospace industry is pivotal to the economic health of Kansas, said Barrett-Gonzalez, who served with Mulally on the KU Aerospace Industrial Advisory Board. Mulally is the principal corporate leader responsible for the highly successful Boeing 777 aircraft and one of the chief architects of the 787.
“He has continually shown leadership in developing ultra-efficient, highly profitable commercial aircraft,” Barrett-Gonzalez said. “These new aircraft not only help reduce greenhouse gas emissions per passenger seat-mile, but also allow operators and customers to save money while doing so.”
Boeing has concentrated on this sector of the market under Mulally’s leadership, and the airline giant now outpaces new Airbus orders nearly 3:1. Many of Kansas’ 40,000 aerospace industry jobs, from Wichita to Overland Park, are devoted to producing and supporting these aircraft.
Mulally graduated in 1968 and 1969 with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from KU’s aerospace engineering department, the oldest and highest ranked aerospace engineering department in the state. His master’s adviser, former department chair and distinguished professor emeritus Jan Roskam, said his former pupil’s success comes as no surprise to him.
“Alan participated in many projects with large groups of fellow students, and he was always the leader,” Roskam said. “He always got people to work hard for him. He was just born with that ability. He was a natural leader.”
Roskam also remembers a time when he told Mulally that he expected nothing short of greatness from him.
“After he had defended his master’s thesis, I told him, ‘You’re going to work for Boeing, and I expect you to be president there within 25 years,’ ” Roskam said.
It was that ability to lead and motivate that prompted Ford Motor Co. Chairman Bill Ford to ask Mulally to join him in the effort to turn things around at the struggling auto company. Mulally officially became CEO of Ford in September.
Story by University Relations