Ford retains Mulally through 2014, continues CEO search

Thu Nov 1, 2012 5:55pm EDT
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By Deepa Seetharaman and Paul Lienert

(Reuters) - Ford Motor Co (F.N: Quote) said Alan Mulally has agreed to stay on as chief executive for at least two more years, giving the No. 2 U.S. automaker more time to gauge potential successors -- or keep Mulally on longer if needed.

Mark Fields, a 23-year Ford veteran seen as the front runner to succeed Mulally, was promoted to chief operating officer as part of several top management changes on Thursday. But Ford stopped short of formally anointing Fields, 51, as its next CEO.

The new timetable keeps Mulally, 67, in place for at least one year beyond what analysts expected. Chairman Bill Ford also said Mulally could stay longer and left open the possibility that Ford eventually could hire an outsider to fill the role.

"I'd like him to stay forever, but part of being a great CEO is also developing a great team," Bill Ford said during a conference call. "We really do have a great team that Alan has developed and mentored, and he'll continue to do that."

The announcement raises questions about the board's confidence that Fields or others within Ford can lead the automaker at a time when it is overhauling its struggling European operations and building up its fledgling China business.

Both Bill Ford and Mulally said the next two years will offer the company a chance to further develop and strengthen its management team. Fields, who has led North and South America for seven years, will assume day-to-day responsibility for global operations.

Ford also promoted several other executives Thursday, including Joe Hinrichs, who will take on Fields' current role as head of the Americas. Hinrichs, seen as a potential candidate for CEO, now leads Ford's operations in Asia and Africa.

"Today is really about developing the individuals, but also about developing the team," Mulally said during the conference call. "Mark is getting a chance to develop and serve as COO."   Continued...

Alan Mulally, President and CEO of Ford Motor Company attends a launch event for the New 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid car in New York's Times Square, September 18, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar