As we all know, Mulally, 68, is a top contender to lead Microsoft Corp, according to sources familiar with the software company. And now, two people close to the automaker told Reuters that regardless of whether he gets that job, he is unlikely to stay at Ford through 2014.
The view from inside Ford, and of people close to the company, is that the management team Mulally groomed is now ready for his exit. Fields, 52, is widely expected to take over as CEO.
“Collectively we have helped change the culture – it’s not just relegated to one particular individual,” Fields told reporters in September. “It’s really about all of us looking to build on the things over the years that have made our culture so strong.”
After more than seven years at Ford’s helm, Mulally is closely identified with the company’s ability to avoid the 2009 federal bailouts needed to save GM and Chrysler. The overriding question is how Ford will fare without the architect of its turnaround. A key concern is preventing Ford’s old culture from resurfacing after Mulally is gone.
Mulally’s exit would leave Ford mostly in the hands of “lifers” who have spent much of their careers working for the Blue Oval. All but one corporate officer – global marketing chief Jim Farley – were at Ford prior to Mulally.
Most of them rose through the ranks during the 1990s and early 2000s – when the corporate atmosphere had “more intrigue than Czarist Russia,” Ford Chairman Bill Ford, the great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford, once said.
Engineers and designers waited until the last possible moment to reveal problems in hopes of avoiding blame for delays in new car launches. Executives tapped each others’ phones and covertly tried to undermine one another, according to “American Icon,” a 2012 book by Bryce Hoffman about Mulally’s battle to turn around Ford.
Under Mulally’s tenure, Ford’s share price has roughly doubled to $16.59 as of Friday’s close. In comparison, the broad Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose about 36 percent over that period.
A smooth handover from Mulally to Fields would be a milestone for a company that has rarely had a routine CEO transition in its more than 110-year history. Mulally is Ford’s third-longest-serving CEO, after founder Henry Ford and his grandson Henry Ford II.