CEO Alan Mulally has stated on numerous occasions his intent to helm the auto maker through at least 2014. He reiterated that stance when he named Mark Fields chief operating officer last year, a move some saw as a signal Mulally was contemplating retirement.
Now media reports have surfaced that Mulally is reconsidering his plans, and may leave earlier than expected.
According to Reuters, a source withinsays Mulally, 68, is contemplating taking another high-profile job, possibly as CEO at tech giant Microsoft or a position within the Obama Admin.
Adding some validity to the reports is the fact Fields, as planned, is leading the auto maker’s weekly strategic business review meetings, with Mulally stepping farther back from day-to-day operations.
Reports citing unnamed sources surface frequently, but this one may be a way for Ford to lay the groundwork for an early Mulally departure. It’s likely Ford executives planned this leak, looking to see the reaction of Wall Street and stockholders.
So far Ford stock has held its ground, but if the departure rhetoric continues to heat up we may see a drop off in share prices as jittery investors worry how the auto maker would fare in Mulally’s absence.
By all accounts, Fields, 52, is ready for the job. One knock against him is he was part of the top management team when Ford nearly fell into bankruptcy, before Mulally came in and orchestrated a remarkable turnaround.
Perhaps the biggest question regarding the report is why Mulally would want to take on another job at an age when most execs are considering retirement? And while a position within the Obama Admin. certainly would be a new frontier for Mulally to conquer, the Microsoft job makes little sense, given that he’s an engineer by trade and his last two jobs were at Boeing and Ford, manufacturers that played to his strengths.
But CEOs are a unique bunch, which is why not many execs reach the position, particularly at large corporations like Ford. Mulally could just be driven to take on the next challenge, regardless of his advanced age.
Ford repeatedly has said it has strong succession plans in place, but hasn’t ruled out considering an outsider to replace Mulally, perhaps sooner than later, if the reports are accurate.
If Ford’s board of directors deems neither Fields nor any other insider ready to lead the company, a potential frontrunner could be Carlos Tavares, who recently left- after telling the media he would love the top spot at one of the Detroit Three auto makers.
What is for sure is the clock is ticking on Mulally’s tenure at Ford, and Wall Street analysts, stockholders and the legion of employees who have undying devotion to him best be prepared.