Ford Chief Reiterates Plan to Lead Company Through 2014

Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally reiterated the company’s plan that he continue leading the second-largest U.S. automaker through at least 2014.

“We’ve said at least through 2014, but I always listen to my chairman,” Mulally, 67, said today after the company’s annual meeting in Wilmington, Delaware. Executive Chairman Bill Ford joked with reporters: “I thought it was 2020? Or wasn’t it 2025? He’s got a long run.”

Mulally led Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford back to profitability without the federal bailouts and bankruptcies that befell the predecessors of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC in 2009. Ford has earned $35.2 billion the past four years after losing $30.1 billion from 2006 through 2008 as Mulally has pushed to add more competitive cars to the company’s lineup to complement its pickups and utility vehicles.

Ford last year promoted Mark Fields, 52, to chief operating officer, making him the front-runner to replace Mulally. Bill Ford, 56, said last year he would be surprised if the next CEO of the automaker founded by his great-grandfather came from outside the company.

“He’s a rock star of a manager,” Gary Bradshaw, fund manager for Dallas-based Hodges Capital Management, which holds about 150,000 shares of Ford, said of the CEO in a telephone interview. “Mulally made the difficult choices of selling assets and scaling down the business and raising capital and doing everything they needed to do to survive.”

Ford fell less than 0.1 percent to $14.20 at the close in New York. The shares have gained 9.7 percent this year, compared with a 14 percent increase for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

Japan Trade

Mulally today said Ford is concerned that Japan may join a free-trade pact between the U.S. and countries in the Pacific region. The U.S. and Japan, the world’s largest and No. 3 economies, announced an agreement last month to include Japan in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks.

Japan’s auto industry is “one of the most closed markets in the world,” Mulally said. “I’m sure that what’s going to happen during negotiations is they’re going to be encouraged to restructure their industry and move toward free-trading rules.”

At Ford’s meeting today, shareholders also rejected a proposal to strip the founding family of its 40 percent voting control of the company and move to one vote per share. The vote was 66.6 percent against and 33.4 percent in favor, the most support received since it was first proposed in the middle of last decade.

The family controls the automaker through Class B shares that only its members can own.

“If you look at the performance of our company through the last six or seven years versus others who did not have” family control, “I kind of like the way we performed,” Bill Ford told reporters. “Having the family vote and ownership position really allowed the company to stay focused, not get distracted, and to survive and ultimately thrive.”

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