Alan Mulally’s candidacy for the top job at Microsoft threatens to overshadow car introductions at Ford and raises the risk of internal strife among his deputies at the automaker.
Michelle Krebs, an analyst for auto researcher Edmunds.com says keeping the focus on autos rather than management will be paramount as Ford plans to introduce 23 new vehicles in 2014, the busiest year on record for the 110-year-old company
“It is a distraction at a time when they need to focus on plants, products and people — not one person,” Krebs said. “They are launching more products next year than any time in the history of Ford Motor Co. They need to focus on the business.”
Chief Executive Officer Mulally, Executive Chairman Bill Ford and other company leaders have frequently reiterated a 13-month-old plan that called for Mulally to stay at the helm of the second-largest U.S. automaker through at least next year.
Still, a person at the company with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing managers’ roles said that although the company has established a successor in Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields, questions over timing risk a return to the executive infighting that afflicted the pre-Mulally Ford.
Ford is less than a month away from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where the Dearborn, Michigan-based company will show cars and trucks that are crucial to its future. Among them will probably be a new F-Series pickup, the top-selling vehicle line in the U.S. among all cars and trucks for each of the last 36 years.
The company’s history of transitions has been bumpy. Henry Ford overstayed through poor health and mounting losses in the 1940s. His oldest grandson, Henry Ford II, in the 1970s feuded with and pushed out Lee Iacocca, who became an icon at Chrysler Corp.
Alex Trotman in the 1990s avoided preparing multiple successors. His heir, Jacques Nasser, attempted to remake Ford into a consumer-products company, efforts that were undone by Bill Ford and Mulally. Nasser’s tenure ended after crises with sport-utility vehicle rollovers caused by Firestone tires.
Mulally is the third-longest serving CEO of Ford, behind Henry Ford and Henry Ford II, he told reporters last week during the company’s annual holiday reception for the media.