Mark Fields (Jeff Kowalsky / Bloomberg )
Ford Motor Corp. has named Mark Fields, the chief of its North American business, as the automaker's new chief operating officer and handed him responsibility for the day-to-day operations of its global business.
The announcement Thursday by Executive Chairman Bill Ford was designed to quell speculation about the future of the automaker’s chief executive, Alan Mulally.
Mulally, 67, is credited with restructuring the company's operations and guiding it through the recession without the bankruptcy reorganizations and federal bailouts of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group. He will to continue to serve as Ford president and CEO through at least 2014, the company said.
Mulally will focus on the long-term strategic development of the company and on bringing Ford’s struggling European operations back to profitability.
"Whatever happens, Alan is here for a least two more years. ... And it could go longer," Bill Ford said, adding that the personnel moves were decided on at an Oct. 19 board of directors meeting.
It's not clear if the moves by the automaker’s board firmly anoint Fields as the successor to Mulally.
"We felt it was important to put something out there because there has been so much speculation about when Alan might go and how long he might stay. But don't read anything more into this," Bill Ford said.
"In terms of an eventual CEO replacement, I have said in the past that I would prefer that it would come from inside and I would be surprised if it did not come from inside," he said. But as chairman of the company, he added, he has a responsibility to look at potential candidates from outside the company."
Nonetheless, the promotion was a vote of confidence in Fields.
"Mark knows the process; he has been right next to me for the last six years," Mulally said.
"We view the news as a well-thought-out succession plan for the inevitable post-Mulally Ford Motor Co." said Peter Nesvold, an analyst with Jefferies & Co.
"We believe Fields has grown into a CEO-ready executive. In his new role, Fields will assume responsibility for running Mulally's signature Thursday morning business plan reviews -- a move that is not only symbolic, but also functional in that it helps ensure that the business process improvements that Mulally has made are truly institutionalized into Ford's culture.” Nesvold said.
"Mark Fields earned his stripes heading North American operations and turning them around, both on the cost side -- by closing plants and cutting jobs -- and the revenue side -- by overseeing the launch of a long string of significant and ultimately successful new models," said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with auto information company Edmunds.com.
Bill Ford said the financial results posted by the North American operations during the third quarter of this year demonstrated how well the business unit is functioning under Fields' leadership.
Earlier this week, the automaker reported third-quarter net income of $1.6 billion, about the same as it did in the quarter a year earlier.
But in North America, Ford said it achieved its highest quarterly profit and operating margin since at least 2000, when the company started reflecting the region as a separate business unit. The North American business had a record third-quarter pretax profit of $2.3 billion and a 12% operating margin.
Fields, 51, joined Ford in 1989, and has served in many executive positions.
In other moves, Ford named Joe Hinrichs executive vice president and president of the Americas group. He was group vice president and president of Asia Pacific/Africa
Stephen Odell was named executive vice president and president of Europe, Middle East and Africa. He was group vice president, chairman and CEO, Ford of Europe.
Jim Farley was named executive vice president of global marketing, sales and service and of the Lincoln brand.
Farley will be charged with rebuilding the Lincoln brand, which has struggled to compete with other luxury nameplates in recent years.
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