Mark Fields, Ford Motor Co.'s new chief operating officer, is credited… (Carlos Osorio, Associated…)
Ford Motor Co. all but announced a formal succession plan Thursday by naming Mark Fields, its president of the Americas, the automaker's new chief operating officer responsible for the day-to-day operations of its global business.
Fields, 51, will still report to Chief Executive Alan Mulally, 67, who has agreed to head the company through 2014 but will now focus on long-term strategic development and on bringing Ford's struggling European operations back to profitability.
In making the announcement, Executive Chairman Bill Ford cautioned that Fields was not a shoo-in as the automaker's next CEO.
"We felt it was important to put some sort of date out there because there has been so much speculation in terms of when's Alan really going to stay and when is he going to go," Bill Ford said. "But don't read anything beyond that into this."
Nonetheless, the promotion was seen as a key vote of confidence in Fields, who is credited with turning around Ford's North American operations by closing plants and cutting costs while increasing sales.
"Mark clearly is an outstanding global business leader," Bill Ford said. "For the last seven years he has been responsible for the transformation of our North American operations and its record profitability."
To analysts, the move was a signal that Fields will be the next CEO.
"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, he added. "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."
Mulally is credited with restructuring the company's operations and guiding it through the recession without having to file for Bankruptcy Court reorganization or seek federal bailouts as its rivals General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group did.
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 of 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.