Ford’s future CEO, Mark Fields, is ready to fill Mulally’s “big shoes” image

The announcement that Alan Mulally is stepping down from the CEO function at Ford earlier than programmed was no surprise, as the same can be said about who’s next in line.

Alan Mulally, the 68 year old executive that came from Boeing in 2006 is no doubt a Ford legend now – managing to avert the financial meltdown of 2008 which brought General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy.

But it’s time we focus on Mark Fields now, the slick, tailored suited, Harvard MBA alumni that was fast rising among Ford’s executives to claim the top job. For years, many analysts and industry observers detracted him, as he climbed up the management ladder.

But now, even Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. acknowledged it’s the best pick for the company. He noted the tough assignments he had, including fixing Mazda (which is doing very well now) or restoring the North American profits in a period of incredible economic turmoil.

“Every job Mark’s done he’s done very well,” said Ford. “He grew and rose to every challenge, and he became a battle-tested executive through it all. Even some of his early doubters and detractors came around with great respect for the job he did.”

“You learn from your experiences,” says the 53-year-old Fields. “I spend a lot of time on self-reflection. Sometimes it’s hard, you know. Someone says something, and you’re like, ‘That’s not me!’ So you can discard it, or your can reflect on it, and think, ‘How can I be a better leader?’”

Fields came to widespread attention in 1999 when he became president of Japan’s money-losing Mazda Motors. He was 38, born in Brooklyn, with an economics degree from Rutgers and a Harvard MBA. By 2001 the company was again profitable. He moved in 2002 to head Ford’s then Premier Automotive Group, a $12 billion acquisition of Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. While the US automaker finally acknowledged defeat and sold the brands at a very big loss, he managed to temporarily bring the money losing Ford of Europe back on track.

Then, in 2005 he was summoned back at HQ and given the gargantuan task of returning to profit the North American unit – he asked for total autonomy and came up with the “Way Forward” plan. In 2006 Mulally came and was won over by Fields, with his initial CEO order to accelerate it. In just a few short years Fields managed to transform the home unit from Ford’s biggest money-loser into the exact opposite.