Mulally, then Fields and then ...
Joe Hinrichs' new post as head of Ford's business in the Americas places him behind new COO Mark Fields in the company's succession chain.
DETROIT -- Alan Mulally will stay Ford Motor Co. CEO at least through 2014. Joe Hinrichs will return from the Asia Pacific Africa region to head Ford's business in the Americas.
Oh, yeah, and Mark Fields is Ford's COO.
Fields' promotion had been expected. Hinrichs' move hadn't. Hinrichs goes from Ford's fastest-growing operations to its most profitable and most closely watched.
The shuffle makes Fields, 51, the undisputed top candidate to replace Mulally, 67. But last week, when Executive Chairman Bill Ford unveiled the executive changes, which are effective Dec. 1, he stopped short of confirming that Fields will succeed Mulally.
The changes position Hinrichs, 45, widely seen as Fields' primary rival to succeed Mulally, as next in line to follow Fields in the succession chain -- or to move up should Fields falter.
But Mulally will be around to mentor the two younger executives, and he's not likely to brook any infighting.
Mulally will turn over the running of the Thursday business plan review meetings to Fields. Those meetings, where all of Ford's global business unit leaders come together by teleconference, have been key to Mulally's success in getting Ford's famously fractious fiefdoms to work together. His One Ford business plan is not only about sharing resources globally but also about getting all of Ford's units working in concert, not at cross-purposes.
"I'm going to step back from that to further advance the strategic issues of improving the One Ford plan," Mulally said. But he will still sit in on those meetings, which have been a fixture since he came to Ford from Boeing in 2006.
"That is the venue where we manage day-to-day operations, and I'll be good help supporting him [Fields] running the day-to-day business," said Mulally, adding, "I've not had a COO before, but I'm really looking forward to nurturing and supporting Mark."
The last time Ford had a COO was 2005-06, when Jim Padilla held the job.
Big change from China
Hinrichs -- who shares Mulally's down-to-earth, no-nonsense management style -- takes on a set of challenges very different from the ones he has faced recently.
When Hinrichs took charge of Asian operations in December 2009, Ford was a marginal player in China. Hobbled by a late start and a limited product lineup, Ford trailed far behind sales leaders Volkswagen AG and General Motors.
With Dearborn's blessing, Hinrichs launched construction of a transmission plant and an engine plant, both near the joint-venture plant that built the Ford Focus and Mondeo in Chongqing. The company built another assembly plant in Chongqing and plans to add another in Hangzhou.
By 2015, Ford China plans to introduce 15 vehicles and double its assembly capacity to 1.2 million vehicles a year. Ford's share in the region is still small, but it rose to 3.1 percent in the third quarter, from 2.7 percent a year earlier.
Hinrichs' excitement at the challenges in Asia was palpable when he spoke with reporters last May. "When do you get a chance to be part of this -- the largest industrial expansion since the late '50s and World War II?" he said. "That keeps you going. It's a lot better than restructuring."
Veteran troubleshooter David Schoch, now CEO of Ford China, takes over as president of Asia Pacific.
Hinrichs, as the new head of Ford of the Americas, inherits a region that has been hugely profitable under Fields. In the third quarter, Ford's North America region posted a record pretax operating profit of $2.33 billion. But problems are on the rise.
Taking some lumps
Ford is in the midst of one of the most ambitious North American launch schedules in its history. In a span of a few months, Ford has launched the Escape crossover, Fusion mid-sized sedan and C-Max Hybrid. The Lincoln MKZ will be arriving in dealerships just about when he assumes his new post on Dec. 1.
The Escape launch has been marred by one high-profile recall and two smaller ones. And Ford continues to get knocks in consumer-satisfaction surveys for its buggy MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch control systems.
Last week, for example, in Consumer Reports' annual reliability study, Lincoln finished 26th and Ford finished 27th -- only one spot above last-place Jaguar.
Hinrichs' manufacturing background -- he joined Ford in 2000 as a transmission plant manager -- could serve him well.
Before going to Asia, Hinrichs ran Ford's 105 global assembly, powertrain and stamping operations and oversaw global engineering support for the plants.
In 2006-07, as group vice president of global manufacturing and labor affairs, Hinrichs hammered out operating agreements with UAW locals that gave the company the right to require production workers to perform a wider variety of tasks, allowing the plants to operate at lower cost.
David Sedgwick contributed to this report
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