Exclusive: Ford board open to earlier exit for CEO Mulally - sources

Thu Sep 5, 2013 8:23pm EDT
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By Deepa Seetharaman and Bernie Woodall

DETROIT (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co Chief Executive Alan Mulally, credited with driving a culture change that helped save the No. 2 U.S. automaker, may step down sooner than planned, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Under a succession plan outlined late last year, Mulally, 68, was expected to stay on as CEO until at least the end of 2014. But Ford's board of directors is now open to letting him step down earlier as he explores other roles, two people familiar with the board's thinking said.

This shift underscores the board's growing confidence in the executive team's ability to avoid the missteps that pushed Ford to the brink of collapse before Mulally was hired in 2006. The board has also warmed to Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields, a 24-year Ford veteran who is widely expected to be the next CEO, according to sources.

Under these circumstances, the board is willing to let Mulally determine the timing of his potential exit, the sources said. Mulally is considering another high-profile job to follow up his tenure at Ford, they said, adding that he had discussed a role in the Obama administration at one point.

Mulally's name has also been floated as a possible successor for Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, who said in late August that he would retire within a year.

The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because details of Ford's succession plan are confidential.

When Reuters asked Mulally about his plans, he replied in an email that he is "absolutely focused on serving our Ford."

"We are having so much fun creating an exciting, sustainable, and profitably growing Ford for everyone," Mulally said in the email.   Continued...

Ford Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally arrives for his company's press availability at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan January 15, 2013. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook