Ford, the second-largest U.S. automaker, will soon name Mark Fields its next chief executive and reveal when current CEO Alan Mulally will retire from the company he is credited with saving, according to two people familiar with the pending announcement.
Mulally, 68, will step down before the end of the year and be succeeded by Fields, 53, now chief operating officer, according to the people, who asked not to be identified revealing internal plans. Ford may announce the moves as soon as May 1, the people said.
“We take succession planning very seriously and we have succession plans in place for each of our key leadership positions,” said Susan Krusel, a Ford spokeswoman. “For competitive reasons, we don’t discuss our succession plans externally.”
Mulally is credited with cultivating a more collaborative environment at Ford, which had long been characterized by executive infighting and backbiting. Fields was among the first executives to switch to the more cooperative style Mulally introduced.
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The transition will bring an end to a storied chapter in Ford’s history, in which the automaker narrowly avoided bankruptcy thanks to Mulally’s management and a bet-the-business $23 billion loan.
Mulally signed off on the loan shortly after arriving from Boeing in 2006 and turned around the automaker by slashing costs and overhauling its lineup with stylish, fuel-efficient models that have won over a new generation of drivers.
“A lot of great CEOs leave and then there’s chaos behind them,” said Executive Chairman Bill Ford, great-grandson of founder Henry Ford, last week. “Alan and I have talked about that — the importance of the final act of a great CEO is having a great transition.”
Ford is planning to make this announcement now to provide clarity on its leadership and an orderly transition of power, the people said.
Fields emerged as Mulally’s likely successor when he was promoted to COO in December 2012. Ford had said that Mulally would stay through 2014.
“There were these rumblings about how long Mulally was going to stay and that caused a distraction,” said Karl Brauer, senior analyst with auto researcher Kelley Blue Book. “They decided ‘We’re not going to wait until everybody’s jabbing them about what’s going on at Ford.’ They’re taking control of the situation and saying, ‘Mulally is leaving and Fields is coming in.’ ”
Mulally will not fade from view in retirement to pursue his passions for golf and tennis, the people said.
Rather, he is lining up a post-Ford position that will keep him involved in corporate governance or business policy, they said. Last year, Microsoft considered Mulally as its next CEO until he took himself out of the running in January.
Fields, a 25-year veteran of Ford, was tapped to become Ford’s No. 2 executive after leading the automaker’s North American operations from deep losses to record profits.
Under Mulally and Fields, Ford managed to avoid the bailouts and bankruptcies that befell the predecessors of General Motors and Chrysler Group.
Ford has earned $42.3 billion in the past five years after losing $30.1 billion from 2006 through 2008.
Last year, surging sales of Escape SUVs, F- Series pickups and Fusion sedans helped drive Ford’s pretax earnings in North America to a record $8.78 billion.
Last year, Mulally’s compensation at Ford rose 11 percent to $23.2 million, according to the proxy statement the company filed last month.