Ford (NYSE:F) is launching 16 new vehicles in North America this year, and right in the middle, it’s switching out its chief executive. Alan Mulally, the current CEO and the man credited with helping turn around the company’s prospects without the aid of a federal bailout, is slated to retire from the automaker on July 1 and be succeeded by current Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields, the company announced Thursday. Mulally signed on with Ford in 2006, and with the help of a substantial loan, was able to navigate the company through the recession while simultaneously boosting sales, minimizing losses, and reducing costs.
“From the first day we discussed Ford’s transformation eight years ago, Alan and I agreed that developing the next generation of leaders and ensuring an orderly CEO succession were among our highest priorities,” Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in the company’s statement. “Mark has transformed several of our operations around the world into much stronger businesses during his 25 years at Ford. Now, Mark is ready to lead our company into the future as CEO.”
Mulally, 68, came from Boeing previous to joining Ford, and this summer will lay to rest a 45-year career that is impressive by any measure. “Alan deservedly will be long remembered for engineering one of the most successful business turnarounds in history,” Bill Ford said. “Under Alan’s leadership, Ford not only survived the global economic crisis, it emerged as one of the world’s strongest auto companies. We always will be grateful to Alan for his leadership, compelling vision and for fostering a culture of working together that will serve our company for decades to come.”
Mulally also set up Ford for one of its busiest years in company history, launching 23 new products around the world, including the highly anticipated next-generation Mustang and new F-150, America’s best-selling vehicle. Mulally’s departure from the company comes about six months earlier than was previously anticipated, but Bill Ford is confident that the company is ready to make the switch. “Alan and I feel strongly that Mark and the entire leadership team are absolutely ready to lead Ford forward, and now is the time to begin the transition,” he said.
Fields has been charged with leading the company’s weekly Business Plan Review meeting, which Mulally created to help track the progress of the One Ford plan and to monitor the global business and competitive environment. It’s also credited with bringing a whole new level of transparency to Ford’s operations, a crucial yet rare factor that is hard to find in companies as large and well established as Ford.
Almost as newsworthy as the announcement of the switch is the seamlessness and apparent ease of it. Ford has not exactly had great luck with executive transitions — take, for example, Bill Ford’s firing of CEO Jacques Nasser in 2001 and Henry Ford II ejecting Lee Iacocca in 1978. Bill Ford replaced himself as CEO by hiring Mulally in 2006, when the company faced record losses.
“It has been an honor to serve and contribute to creating a viable, profitably growing company for the good of everyone associated with the Ford Motor Company,” Mulally said in a press release. “By working together with all of our stakeholders around the world, we now are accelerating Henry Ford’s original vision to open the highways to all mankind.
“Ford’s future is so bright, and Mark – supported by an experienced and dedicated senior leadership team — is absolutely the right leader to continue to deliver on our compelling vision,” he added.
“It is a true honor to lead this great company and this talented team into the future,” Fields said. “Under Alan’s leadership, we have seen the power of One Ford and what a culture of positive leadership and working together can accomplish. My commitment is to build on that success by accelerating our pace of progress. All of us at Ford are committed to delivering even more of the great products and innovations that will deliver growth and define our company going forward.”