In a smooth transition that has been expected for many months, Ford Motor Co. has tapped 41-year-old William Clay Ford Jr. as its next chairman and Jacques A. Nasser as its next president and chief executive officer, both succeeding Alex Trotman, who will relinquish all three titles Jan. 1, 1999.

It marks the first time since 1980 that a member of the Ford family has been chairman.

"This is the time for the next generation to take charge and lead us into the 21st Century," said Mr. Trotman, who has led the company since November 1993.

Mr. Ford, who worked his way up to the position of vice president, resigned as an employee in 1996. He then became chairman of the board's finance committee and devoted much of his time to managing the Detroit Lions football team, which he and his father William Clay Ford, also a Ford Motor Co. director, own. He will remain as vice chairman of the National Football League team.

The power-sharing arrangement is clearly defined.

"The leadership of the board is under the chairmanship, and the leadership of the company is under the chief executive officer," said Mr. Ford.

The 50-year-old Mr. Nasser, born in Lebanon and raised in Australia, remains responsible for Ford automotive operations and adds Ford Motor Credit Co., Visteon, Hertz and various staff organizations to his portfolio. He also joins the board of directors.

By consistently exceeding stated cost-cutting goals and aggressively realigning Ford's product lineup toward higher-margin truck-based vehicles such as Expedition, Lincoln Navigator and the F-series Super-duty pickup truck and dropping unprofitable Thunderbird, Mr. Nasser has earned the respect of Wall Street and competitors.

Armed with a $20 billion pile of cash that Wall Street regards as sufficient to weather any downturn that may be triggered by the global financial crisis, Ford's management team is acting a bit like the slowdown is already here.

In recent months it has initiated a controversial early retirement program aimed at reducing its worldwide ranks of 120,000 salaried workers by up to 10,000 jobs. The controversial aspect can be traced to a series of internal memos that indicated buyouts would be offered to under-performers or those with limited career potential.

"It's designed to make us more nimble," Mr. Nasser said. "I'm sure for individual people it has created some anxiety, but this is a never ending drive to make the company quicker and more nimble."

Among the options for using the cash, Mr. Trotman and Mr. Ford said the company is studying investing in companies not necessarily in, but related to, the auto industry. "We want to grow our core business, but we also want to position ourselves as the premier transportation company in the future," the chairman-elect says.