Bill Ford Praises Deep Bench, Reiterates Mulally CEO Plan

Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford emphasized the abilities of his company’s top executives while reiterating that Alan Mulally will continue leading Ford Motor Co. for now.

“The plan is he’s going to stick around,” Ford, 56, said of Mulally in an interview yesterday with Bloomberg Television. “I’m happy he’s sticking around. But we also feel really good about where we are in terms of succession.”

While Ford is moving to quell speculation about an imminent departure by Mulally, 68, its chairman’s comments show that the No. 2 U.S. automaker has planned ahead for a post-Mulally era. The CEO and Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields, the top candidate to next lead Ford, have reiterated the company’s plan for Mulally to stay through at least 2014 in response to reports that he is a candidate to become the next CEO of Microsoft Corp.

After his arrival from Boeing Co. in 2006, Mulally’s efforts and the $23.4 billion that Ford borrowed late that year led the company to avoid bankruptcy in 2009, when General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC’s predecessors failed and needed U.S. rescues. Ford earned $35.2 billion from 2009 through 2012 after losing $30.1 billion in the previous three years.

“Every corporation in the world should want Alan,” Bill Ford said in an interview related to the 100th anniversary of Henry Ford’s moving assembly line.

Bill Ford recruited Mulally away from Boeing after a 37-year career at the Chicago-based aircraft manufacturer. In doing so, Bill Ford yielded the CEO post he had held from late 2001. There was “tremendous skepticism” about the hire, Bill Ford said yesterday.

‘Death Warrant’

“I remember one reporter on the day that I introduced him said to me well, you just signed the death warrant of the Ford Motor Company by bringing in a non-car guy,” he said.

While Bill Ford reiterated a plan for Mulally to remain CEO, he said the executive doesn’t have a contract with the Dearborn, Michigan-based company. When the company announced in November its plan for Mulally to stay through 2014, the CEO said his contract was “a very firm handshake with the chairman.”

“He’s here as long as he and I would like it to happen,” the chairman said. “We’re also cognizant of training the next generation and getting them ready to go as well.”

Fields, 52, was promoted to COO in December after he revamped the company’s North American operations to record profits from its worst losses five years ago. He spoke to reporters last week at an event for the United Way, where he insisted that the reports about Mulally going to Microsoft haven’t distracted the automaker.

“As good as Alan is, we knew that he wasn’t going to last forever,” Bill Ford said yesterday. “Nobody does. We have the best team today that we’ve had in my working career. I feel really good, as does Alan, about where we are going forward.”

Ballmer’s Plan

Steve Ballmer said in August he planned to step down as CEO at Microsoft within 12 months. The 57-year-old chief unveiled a reorganization in July that his company called One Microsoft and was influenced by Mulally’s One Ford plan that weaned the automaker away from designing different cars for various regional markets around the world.

Bill Ford predicted a “seamless” transition to his company’s next CEO.

“If you look at the next generation of management, I’ve worked with all of them for many, many years,” he said, without identifying specific executives. “They’ve loved working in this style with this vision since 2006. There is no appetite within the management team for deviating. We always adapt to business conditions, but the basic vision will remain the same.”

Ford rose 1.9 percent to $17.19 at the close yesterday in New York. The shares have surged 33 percent this year, compared with a 19 percent increase in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

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