* Execs sidestep questions about CEO retirement plans
* Timing of Mulally's retirement key focus for investors
* "Maybe 2030" -Ford chairman jests about CEO's exit timing
By Tom Hals
WILMINGTON, Del., May 10 If Warren Buffett can
run a company in his 80s, why can't Ford's Alan Mulally?
Top executives at Ford Motor Co have fielded questions
for months about just when Mulally, 66, plans to retire as the
company's chief executive. So far the No. 2 U.S. automaker has
kept his plans quiet - mostly.
"Well, we said 2025," Chairman Bill Ford Jr joked to
reporters after the company's annual shareholder meeting in
Wilmington, Delaware, on Thursday. "Maybe 2030."
Mulally turns 85 in 2030. If he stays, he would be among a
handful of corporate octogenarians like Buffett, the CEO of
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Buffett will turn 82 this year
and said two years ago that he would like to work past 100.
Analysts, however, expect Mulally to leave within about two
years. At the meeting Thursday, Mulally simply said, "We have a
robust succession plan for every member of the team."
The prospect of Mulally's exit is one factor that has hurt
Ford's stock this year, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said
in a research note last week. So far in 2012, Ford shares have
been flat, while the S&P 500 has risen about 8 percent.
Mulally took the reins at Ford in 2006, when the company was
mired in a financial crisis. But the automaker rallied around
the "One Ford" motto, Mulally's strategy to unify Ford's
once-disconnected business units to drive down costs and build a
As a result, he is closely identified with the success of
Ford, the only of Detroit's "Big Three" automakers to avoid a
U.S. government-led bankruptcy. General Motors Co and
Chrysler Group LLC both emerged from their bankruptcy
restructurings in 2009.
Ford has now reached a point in its recovery that centers on
boosting the profitability of its best-selling models and
grooming a successor for its top executive. That is widely
expected to be Mark Fields, who is in charge of Ford's
operations in North and South America.
Uncertainty over Mulally's eventual retirement has not
affected Ford's top executives, Bill Ford told reporters. "I
don't think there's any anxiety on anyone's part on timing," he
"There's no new news, and needless to say the board is more
than happy with the way Alan has led the company," he added. "It
has been really fun for the two of us to work together, and I'd
like to see it continue for some time."