DETROIT -- At first it was Bill Ford and his mentors, elder statesmen of the industry. Now it's Bill Ford and his team, a group of hard-driving executives chosen to lead Ford Motor Co. through a brutal turnaround.
The announcement last week of Jim Padilla's impending exit closes out the era of CEO Bill Ford's leaning on veterans.
After he became CEO in October 2001, Bill Ford elevated some Ford veterans and even brought back retired executives such as Allan Gilmour. But after Padilla retires as COO and president on July 1, Bill Ford will be more clearly leading Ford Motor.
"This is a huge opportunity for the company and a clear signal that Bill is stepping up," Padilla, 59, said in an interview Friday.
Ford insiders talk about an "inflection point" from which the company can move boldly and prosper, or can continue to lose sales and founder.
Says Steve Hamp, Ford vice president and Bill Ford's chief of staff: "We've got to downshift now and step on the pedal, big-time. And Bill is leading that."
Horse race for COO
Bill Ford, 48, will assume Padilla's responsibilities by heading a new committee of executive vice presidents. It is a transitional arrangement that gets Bill Ford closer to the action and gives him time to choose an eventual No. 2 - and probable successor.
In the ultimate COO horse race, the top internal candidates are "the two Marks":
- Mark Fields, 45, president of the Americas since last September, is charged with the automaker's toughest task: turning around a bloody North American auto operation that lost $1.55 billion before taxes and charges in 2005.
Fields is the lead architect of the Way Forward restructuring plan, which calls for the closure of 14 plants and the elimination of up to 34,000 jobs.
- Mark Schulz, 53, president of international operations, is an engineer who has done well in several overseas assignments, including several years leading Turkish operations.
Schulz, who is considered a detail-oriented operations guy, also is a close friend of Bill Ford's who sometimes plays hockey with the CEO.
Although Fields and Schulz lead the internal field, Bill Ford could tap an outsider as his backup. He has approached outside candidates before, notably Renault-Nissan head Carlos Ghosn and DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche.
The Big 6
With Padilla's retirement, Fields and Schulz now report to Bill Ford. The three are joined on the new executive operating committee by Anne Stevens, COO of the Americas; Lewis Booth, executive vice president and chairman of Ford of Europe, who oversees the Premier Automotive Group; and CFO Don Leclair.
That committee is expected to meet weekly, although details about how it will operate have not yet been settled. Padilla says, "The day-to-day decisions have to remain in the business units."
A key behind-the-scenes force in hammering out how the committee works is Hamp, not only Bill Ford's chief of staff but also his brother-in-law.
Since his appointment last fall, Hamp has emerged as a key player, helping Bill Ford set priorities and complete his team. Padilla said Hamp will help lead an important off-site meeting of Ford Motor's top 20 or so executives in a few weeks.
Peter Brown contributed to this story.
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