Experts Expect A First For Ford: A Painless CEO Transition

Ford Motor Company will soon have a new CEO: Mark Fields, who's currently the chief operating officer. Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reports that Ford hopes this will quell doubts among investors.

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For the first time in its long history, Ford will have a painless CEO transition. Come July 1st, Alan Mulally, who's led the company since 2006, will hand off the reins to his chief operating officer.

Tracy Samilton, of Michigan Radio, tells us the news is no surprise and that's a good thing.

TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: Today, Alan Mulally is almost a rock star in the auto industry. But no one felt that way when Bill Ford went outside the industry to hire him away from Boeing in 2006. Independent auto analyst Michelle Krebs remembers literally rolling her eyes at the unusual decision.

MICHELLE KREBS: Oh, wow. What have they done? But he surprised me.

SAMILTON: Mulally surprised everyone. He got big banks to approve a $24 billion private loan that enabled Ford to get through the recession without a bankruptcy. And he fixed many of Ford's entrenched bad habits, getting executives to work as a team instead of fighting each other to protect their turf.

Chief executive Bill Ford today broke the news of Mulally's retirement to employees at the company's Dearborn headquarters. Ford, as the great-grandson of Henry Ford, said there's one big mistake that has marred the departure of the company's greatest CEOs.

BILL FORD: They do a great job when they're in the job. And then they go kicking and screaming. And what happens then...

(LAUGHTER)

FORD: And then what happens, of course, is chaos ensues.

SAMILTON: But there will likely be no chaos this time. Ahead of schedule, the way is being cleared for CFO Mark Fields to seamlessly inherit the top job. Fields is 53, an insider, rising through the ranks at Ford over a period of 25 years. And has a reputation for humility, which he may need given his boss's outsized image. That doesn't worry Michael Ward, a stock analyst with Sterne Agee.

MICHAEL WARD: I don't think Mark has anything to prove. He is in part responsible for the success of Ford Motor Company and the success of Alan Mulally.

SAMILTON: Ward says Fields has a reputation as a savior, too. He's brought Ford's North American region back to profitability and oversaw a big jump in quality. For his part, Fields says he learned a lot as his boss's right hand man, like the importance of being a steady and consistent leader in a volatile industry.

MARK FIELDS: And also just being comfortable in your own skin and not having to be somebody you're not.

SAMILTON: Fields has been assuming more of the CEO's duties in recent months. So, by July 1st, there may not be much for Alan Mulally to do but pack up his desk and attend a few parties, where he will be toasted as the man who saved Ford.

For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton.

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