Not long after taking over as Ford Motor Co. CEO in 2006, Alan Mulally asked the country's big banks for a big loan. The money, Mulally said at the time, was a "cushion to protect for a recession or other unexpected event." It was a cushion that turned out to be the difference between surviving intact and becoming a ward of the state. As rivals GM and Chrysler turned to Washington for help and eventually had to surrender to government control, Ford remained in charge of its destiny. As a result, the company became the clear front runner among the Detroit Three, cleaning up in the Cash for Clunkers bonanza and returning to profit in the third quarter.