Mark Fields may be about to face the greatest challenge of his career.
Reports are heating up that Fields, currently head of the Americas for, soon will be appointed chief operating officer, the first step toward replacing CEO Alan Mulally, who is expected to step down at the end of 2013.
Mulally, 67, credited with saving the auto maker from collapse after arriving from Boeing in 2006, will be a tough act to follow.
In addition to maintaining momentum in North America, turning around struggling operations in Europe and growing business elsewhere, Fields will be tasked with holding together the executive team, some members of which may depart the auto maker after being overlooked for the top job.
It was Mulally’s “One” plan, focused on leveraging global resources and putting an end to internal bickering long plaguing the auto maker, that put the company back on track.
Fields, 51, drew little of the credit, although he played a major role in developing and implementing One Ford and turning the auto maker’s home market of North America into a cash cow.
If the media reports prove accurate, it will be Fields’ time in the sun, for better or worse.
He will face intense scrutiny from Wall Street, and one misstep could send Ford’s stock tumbling and leading to calls for his ouster.
Other internal possibilities for the post include Joe Hinrichs, who heads up the Asia/Pacific and Africa region, and Stephen Odell, CEO of Ford of Europe, but it appears to be Fields’ job to lose.
Hinrichs, at just 45, widely is considered too young for the CEO post. He also lacks the experience of Fields, who once headed upand Ford’s now-defunct Premier Automotive Group stable of luxury brands.
Odell, 57, has his hands full saving Ford’s European business, projected to lose $1 billion this year.
Bringing in an outsider is a long shot. Doing so would alienate many Ford executives who sweated it out during the height of the recession, when the auto maker’s survival was uncertain.
The best option right now is Fields. His appointment likely would prove popular with the rank-and-file, and reassure that Mulally’s game plan will continue, settling the nerves of skittish stockholders.
Fields has been groomed his entire professional life for this assignment, and it soon could be time to sink or swim.