Mulally says he'll advise Fields, stays mum on other post-Ford plans

'I'm going to stay close to Ford going forward,' he says

Ford CEO Alan Mulally, in an interview following his final town hall meeting at the automaker, said he plans to keep in touch with the automaker. Photo credit: Bloomberg

DETROIT (Bloomberg) -- Ford Motor Co.’s outgoing CEO Alan Mulally said he’ll continue to advise his successor, Mark Fields, and remain in touch with the company after he steps down next month.

“I’m going to stay close to Ford going forward,” Mulally said in an interview on Bloomberg Television.

“Mark would like to call me and I said, ‘Absolutely, any time.’”

Mulally, 68, declined to reveal what else he’ll do after retiring from Ford. Last month, Ford said Mulally had decided to depart six months earlier than planned to make way for Fields, 53, COO and a 25-year veteran of the company. Mulally has been lining up a corporate position, probably as a board director or chairman, people with knowledge of his plans have said.

“I’ve fallen in love with Ford, it’s a great company,” Mulally said in the interview, which followed his final town hall meeting Monday with employees at the automaker’s headquarters. “I’ll maintain many of the great relationships I have.”

Mulally, who came to Ford from Boeing Co. in 2006, engineered a turnaround at the automaker and avoided the bankruptcies and bailouts that befell the predecessors of General Motors and Chrysler Group. He created a collaborative culture, gathering top executives for a mandatory meeting every Thursday morning, where they were required to hash out problems and find solutions together.

‘Really important’

“It’s served everybody well,” Mulally said in the interview. “And I think Mark is going to continue those major processes.”

Asked if that approach would work at other companies or government agencies, Mulally said: “That works in profit, nonprofit, any organization that is trying to deliver something that is really important.”

Mulally, who retires on July 1, said he’s contemplating important issues facing society. Asked in the interview whether he would consider a job such as head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has a $160 billion budget and is the fifth largest of any federal agency, he wouldn’t say. Eric Shinseki resigned as secretary of the department on May 30 after an internal audit found systemic mismanagement and delays in medical care for U.S. military veterans.

“What I’d like to do is call you on July 2 and tell you what I’m thinking about,” Mulally said. “And I’ll probably call you from a Starbucks.”

Early acolyte

Under Mulally’s stewardship, Ford earned $42.3 billion in the last five years after losing $30.1 billion from 2006 to 2008. Surging sales of Escape SUVs, F-series pickups and Fusion sedans drove up Ford’s U.S. sales 11 percent last year. In China, the world’s largest car market, Ford now outsells Toyota Motor Corp.

Fields, also replacing Mulally on Ford’s board, became an early acolyte of Mulally’s culture of collaboration and candor.

Before becoming COO in 2012, he revived Ford’s North America business, which earned a record operating profit of $8.78 billion last year.

Mulally, who was among the candidates late last year to be the new CEO of Microsoft Corp., said in January that he would stay at Ford through the end of 2014.

At the town hall meeting on Monday, attended by Fields and Executive Chairman Bill Ford, Mulally received a prolonged standing ovation.

Global challenges

Ford will play a role in addressing the biggest challenges the world faces, such as economic development, congestion and pollution, Mulally said.

“We’re going to continue to see a very large migration into the larger cities worldwide,” Mulally said. “Personal mobility and integrated transportations systems, I think that’s going to continue to be very, very important. And Ford, as a transportation technology company, has such a great opportunity to serve in that way.”

In describing Ford’s opportunities, Mulally said, “We’re just getting started.”

Asked why he is still using the “we” for a company he will soon depart, Mulally said. “Oh yes. I did say we. I have a few more days to be part of the we.”

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