• Bloomberg


Ford Motor Co. promoted Mark Fields to Chief Executive Officer from Chief Operating Officer effective July 1 as CEO Alan Mulally retires from the second-largest U.S. automaker, the company said Thursday.

“Mark has transformed several of our operations around the world into much stronger businesses during his 25 years at Ford. Now, Mark is ready to lead our company into the future as CEO,” Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in a statement.

Mulally, 68, who had said he would stay at Ford through the end of the year, decided to accelerate his departure because of the “readiness of Ford’s leadership team,” according to the statement. Mulally had tears in his eyes as an auditorium full of employees at the Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters gave him a standing ovation.

Fields, 53, who has been with the company for 25 years, will also replace Mulally on the board. He takes over a company rolling out 23 new models this year, including a record 16 in North America. That requires costly overhauls of factories, including 13 weeks of downtime at two U.S. plants to convert to making aluminum-bodied F-150 pickups. The automaker has promised investors that the profit declines this year will lead to better 2015 earnings.

“The implication for Ford is enormous,” Eric Ibara, an analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said in a statement. “Due to Mark Fields’ age, which is youthful for an automotive CEO, he is poised to lead the company for a long time. He showed his brilliance in his plan to turn Ford around, created before Alan Mulally arrived, and mostly accepted by Alan and the rest of Ford as the right plan to implement.”

Mulally has been lining up a substantial corporate position for his next act, probably as a board director or chairman, people with knowledge of his plans have said.

Mulally wants to maintain a role in the corporate world, giving voice to the importance of manufacturing and innovation in America, the people said. Over 45 years at Boeing Co. and Ford, he became a specialist on management and doing business in Asia, advising President Barack Obama on international trade.

“Mulally’s genius was in anticipating the dramatic falloff in sales that followed the financial crisis of 2008, sparing Ford the indignity of having to declare bankruptcy,” Ibara said. “For this reason alone, Mulally has secured his rightful place in Ford’s pantheon of visionary leaders.”

Ford earned $42.3 billion in the last five years after losing $30.1 billion from 2006, the year Mulally arrived, to 2008. Surging sales of Escape sport-utility vehicles, F-Series pickups and Fusion sedans drove Ford’s U.S. sales up 11 percent last year. In China, the world’s largest car market, Ford now outsells Toyota Motor Corp. Fields’ greatest challenge is following Mulally.

After Mulally considered becoming Microsoft Corp.’s CEO last year, investors became eager for Ford to make the transition, Michael Levine, a fund manager at Oppenheimer Funds Inc. in New York, said last month. Mulally pulled out of the Microsoft race in January and said he would stay at Ford through the end of 2014.

Fields, who will be president as well as CEO, has engineered a few turnarounds of his own in his 25 years at Ford. At age 39 in 2000, Fields became CEO of Mazda Motor Corp., in which Ford had a controlling stake at the time. He led a turnaround at Mazda with several Ford executives with whom he later worked closely to revive Ford’s North American business, which earned record pretax profit last year.

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