It was somewhat of a last-minute trip for a significant, though relatively minor mid-cycle refresh for the 2013 Ford F-150. The majority of attendees for the event were local Texas automotive media. Here I was, the high-falutin' left-coaster flying in from L.A. for this thoroughly Texas-flavored event.
I frankly felt a little embarrassed being picked up at the DFW airport by an extended-length Town Car, and driven to Waco for the event. I was expecting a generic shuttle pickup. Yet at the same time, I was comfortable being back in Texas, as my undergraduate stomping grounds were in the stone's-throw away Baylor University. In fact, I could see the roofs of some of the classroom buildings from the front of the brand-new and surprisingly chic and urban Indigo Hotel.
Thanks to Baylor's outstanding athletic season for 2011-2012, including the women's basketball national championship, an Elite Eight appearance for men's basketball, and the Heisman Trophy award going to quarterback Robert Griffin III, people no longer assume "Boston University" when I wear the green-and-gold BU on my shirt or hat. Baylor has firmly gained national visibility.
The next morning, we were shuttled off to a semi-rural youth summer camp for the relatively low-key debut of the 2013 F-150. As noted in our First Look, the big news is an update of the truck's cabin tech, the addition of optional HID headlights (a class first) and new grille designs. Significant, but hardly earth-shattering.
What turned out to be the big news of the event, at least for me, was the presence of Ford CEO Alan Mulally at the small, intimate event. Frankly, the trucks' debut seemed almost secondary to Mulally's time with the student leaders of Future Farmers of America, an organization that Ford has had a relationship with since 1948. Coincidentally, 2013 is the 65th anniversary of the F-Series truck. So it seemed a fitting tribute for both the truck and the FFA to have the event in the heart of truck country, with future leaders in the field of agriculture.
When it was announced Mulally was going to be at the event, I half expected that he would make a brief speech to the FFA students, and us journalists would be kept comfortably at arms-length while he was quickly whisked away back to Dearborn. I was half-right, but the big surprise was his sit-down session with the assembled journalists after the reveal.
For a non-car (or truck) guy, meeting a CEO may not seem like such a big deal. But for me, and especially considering Mulally's rightly-deserved rock-star status in the automotive world, it was as significant an event in my life as meeting the president or the queen. So when Mr. Mulally looked me straight in the eyes, and I introduced myself, and he repeated "Ed, good to meet you," It was a somewhat surreal moment. Not so much the fact that it happened, but the fact the setting was so low-key and casual. For a leader of his stature and prominence, Mulally is very approachable, humorous, and comfortable in a small group setting.
Unsurprisingly, few questions from the assembled auto-scribes had to do with the trucks, but rather centered on Mulally's historic turnaround of Ford from the mid-2000s, and being the sole holdout among the Detroit Three to pass on a federal bailout. I had hoped to get a photo of myself with him for posterity, but the PR handlers insisted he was too busy. I was somewhat disappointed when I saw him get his photo taken with some other people afterward (primarily FFA students) but the experience was still one of the most memorable of my career up to this point.
In fact, in danger of coming across as a giddy teenager, I called my mother shortly after the meeting to share my experience. Being a Ford stockholder, and big fan of Mulally, she was excited for my opportunity. Naturally, she asked if I got a photo with him, to which I said, "I got a photo of him, but not with him."
Needing to make the hour-and-a-half trip back to DFW for my flight back home, I unfortunately had to pass on the catered lunch. And despite not having a mantlepiece token of my meeting with the legendary automotive figure, this convergence of circumstances that led to my meeting is one I won't forget.