By Bernie Woodall
DETROIT Jan 9 Ford Motor Co chief financial officer Lewis Booth plans to retire in the first half of this year, two people familiar with the matter said on Monday.
Booth, 63, became CFO in 2008 after running Ford's operations in Europe and Asia. He joined the board of British aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc in May last year, a move that marked a transition to a career beyond the automaker where he has spent the past three decades.
Booth declined to comment on his plans in a meeting with reporters on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show.
The British-born Booth had been seen as a potential successor to Ford's CEO, Alan Mulally.
Booth steered the automaker's sale of Swedish luxury brand Volvo to Chinese automaker Geely and was credited with bringing a more collaborative approach to a Ford leadership team that had sometimes been split by in-fighting, people with knowledge of the company's operations have said.
In a sign of confidence in Ford's turnaround, Booth said the automaker would realize a one-time tax-related gain when it reports fourth-quarter results because the automaker has grown more confident in its sustained profitability.
That one-time boost to net income could be as much as $13 billion, he said, as Ford reverses a valuation allowance it made against deferred tax assets in 2006 when the automaker was on the cusp of three years of losses.
Wall Street analysts will adjust for the accounting gain, but it underscores Ford's confidence in its turnaround, Booth said.
"It's a good story because it indicates that we feel confident about the future of our business," he told Reuters.
Booth's retirement puts the focus on Mark Fields, 50, who runs Ford's operations in North and South America, and Joe Hinrichs, 45, who runs the automaker's operations in Asia, as the leading internal candidates to succeed Mulally.
"We have a robust succession planning process. We have a tremendous team within Ford," CEO Mulally told Reuters Insider on Monday.
Fields is widely seen as the front-runner after helping steer the automaker back to profit in its home market over the past five years.
Hinrichs, who is based in Shanghai, has been on the ascent since negotiating a series of cost-saving deals with the United Auto Workers also credited with helping to power Ford's turnaround.
Identifying Mulally's successor is crucial for Ford because the 66-year-old executive is so closely identified with the company's success and its avoidance of the federal bailouts that rescued its U.S. competitors.
Ford's chairman, Bill Ford, has said he expects the successor to Mulally to come from with Ford's executive ranks.
Potential candidates to replace Booth include Ford controller Bob Shanks, a close associate of Fields, and Neil Schloss, Ford's treasurer, and a key figure behind the automaker's rapid repayment of its borrowing from 2006.
Booth was born in Liverpool where his father was a Ford dealer. He is known for his passion for cars and a preference for picking them in colors that make him a standout in Ford's buttoned-down executive ranks.
In recent years, Booth has been driving a Transit Connect van to Ford's Dearborn, Michigan headquarters known as the Glass House. He has bedecked a series of the small vans with a racing stripe, a checkered flag pattern and said recently he was ready to opt for a tennis-ball yellow paint job.
Mulally joined Ford in 2006 from airplane maker Boeing and is credited with steering the automaker back from brink of bankruptcy with $23 billion in borrowing and a plan, dubbed "One Ford," to simplify and unify product development and supplies.
At a dinner meeting with journalists on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show, Mulally said he had no plans to retire. "We are not making any retirement announcements tonight," he said.
Bloomberg first reported that Booth planned to retire, citing sources familiar to the matter.
Mulally said earlier on Monday that Ford would consider "all available options" to succeed him, but indicated the automaker's preference was to rely on home-grown talent.
"Every company looks at all available options both inside and outside, but I am so pleased of the depth and breadth and the talent of the Ford team," he said.