* Mulally to leave board as well
* COO job to disappear, Hinrichs remains head of Americas
* Fields had been widely expected to succeed Mulally
* Fields vows to stick to 'One Ford' plan
(Adds Mulally comments, updates stock action)
By Ben Klayman
DEARBORN, Mich., May 1 Ford Motor Co on
Thursday made official what investors and analysts had been
waiting for - Chief Executive Alan Mulally this summer will pass
the baton of leadership to Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields,
six months earlier than expected.
The 68-year-old Mulally is credited with transforming the
No. 2 U.S. automaker from a money-loser to a company that
expects to realize a pretax profit of up to $8 billion this year
after joining in 2006 from Boeing Co.
Mulally, who was in the running for the top job at Microsoft
Corp late last year, did not say what was next for him.
Ford's CEO change takes effect on July 1.
The ascension of 53-year-old Fields as the next CEO, which
the company's board approved on Wednesday, was expected, but the
timing had been unclear. Mulally said the
transition was moved up from year-end because he felt the team
and Fields were ready.
Fields, who promised to hew to his predecessor's strategy,
said his current COO position would not be filled when the CEO
change occurs, adding in a later interview that the management
team structure without that position was "appropriate."
When asked whether he considered promoting Joe Hinrichs,
president of the Americas and an executive perceived by many in
the auto industry as a rising star, Fields told Reuters that
Hinrichs had a "really big job now running North America. He's
very talented and he's got a bright future."
Mulally said in a later interview that he had no concerns
that Hinrichs would leave as he is intimately involved in
setting the company's strategy.
Fields also said he would stay in touch with Mulally even
though he will leave the company board. Fields pointed out that
Mulally remains a Ford shareholder. Asked why he was not
remaining on Ford's board, Mulally said it was the right time
for him to leave and turn it over to the next team.
WASH, RINSE, REPEAT
Analysts said Fields will inherit a much stronger company
than Mulally did, one with a highly profitable North American
operation underpinned by the top-selling F-150 large pickup
truck. Ford also has a growing share of the China auto market,
the world's largest, and is seeing a nascent recovery in Europe.
Wall Street does not expect big changes given Fields has
been a major architect of the turnaround plan under Mulally.
"You know the plan, you know how to work the plan," Morgan
Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said. "Mark (Fields) calls it 'wash,
rinse and repeat.'"
The biggest challenge awaiting the new CEO is the launch
this autumn of a redesigned, more aluminum-intensive version of
the F-150, a key profit generator for the company, analysts
said. UBS analyst Colin Langan called the new truck "a potential
game changer in the industry."
Ford is introducing a company-record 23 new vehicles this
year, most of them in North America. Those launches also will be
a test for Fields, who has spent the last year focusing on
MULALLY'S NEXT MOVE?
Fields said on Thursday that he does not plan changes to the
company's leadership team, and said his primary focus will be to
continue and accelerate progress on the "One Ford" plan
established by Mulally. That strategy calls for sharing of
engineering and design of vehicles around the globe to improve
quality and cut costs.
"It's a story of continuity," Fields told a roomful of more
than 400 employees and reporters at Ford's headquarters in
Mulally is expected to seek another high-profile job. In
2012, he discussed a role in the Obama administration, but
ultimately committed to two more years at Ford.
Bill Ford, great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford,
said he would make sure the automaker does not revert to a
corporate culture he once described as having "more intrigue
than czarist Russia."
Bill Ford, who preceded Mulally as chief executive and is
the company's executive chairman, said the automaker looked at
outside candidates to replace Mulally, but quickly decided
Fields was the best option.
Mulally said he has not decided on his plans after July 1 as
he was focused on ensuring a smooth transition but he was
looking forward to the next opportunity and was confident in
Fields as his successor. "I have nothing left to teach him," he
Ford shares were down 1 percent at $15.99 on Thursday
afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Matthew Lewis)