In a sea of tuxedos and fancy dresses, Detroit's most influential executives sometimes blend together. On Friday, at the North American International Auto Show, it was clear that one executive is on his way to becoming a local celebrity, even if people don't quite know what he looks like: Ford CEO Alan Mulally.
While standing in a group of people waiting to say hello to Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr., Drive On overheard this conversation:
"Who is that guy? Is that Alan Mulally?"
"No, it's Bill Ford Jr."
"Aw, we've got to keep looking."
Mulally finally surfaced around 8 p.m., sharing a platform with a TV broadcaster and a red Ford Fusion. Crowds of people stood around the platform, shooting photos with their cellphones and lining up behind a cordoned off area hoping for a chance to say hello.
After the interview ended, Mulally spent about 15 minutes posing for pictures with people, including a group of nattily dressed folks who dubbed themselves "The distressed supplier group." Another woman grabbed Mulally by the arm as he was leaving and asked for a photo, gushing that her father would be thrilled. "He's a Ford retiree, and he loves you," she told him.
Ford was the only hometown automaker to survive 2009 without filing for bankruptcy protection and without receiving a government bailout. Many locals credit Mulally, who mortgaged all of Ford's assets including the blue oval logo, for helping save the automaker.
Mulally, who came to Ford from Boeing three years ago, seems to be getting used to the attention, although he clearly loves it.
"Isn't this neat?" he said.