DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. has launched a wide search for candidates to succeed CEO Alan Mulally, and the list of possible replacements includes two current and two former executives, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Mulally, 66, joined Ford as president and CEO in Sept. 2006 from Boeing Co. and is expected to leave within two years, the paper said.
The internal candidates are Mark Fields, the 50 year-old executive in charge of Ford's Americas unit, and Joe Hinrichs, who heads the automaker's Asian operations, the Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter.
Two former Ford executives -- John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai Motor Co.'s North American operations and Phil Martens, CEO of Novelis Inc., an aluminum products maker -- are also being considered, the paper said.
Automotive News recently reported that Ford CFO Lewis Booth, 63, and Jim Farley, 49, group vice president of global marketing, sales and service, are also candidates.
The Journal, citing sources familiar with the automaker's deliberations, said Ford may also appoint a chief operating officer to work alongside Mulally and eventually succeed him as CEO.
Ford denied a search is underway.
"The Wall Street Journal story is false," Ford said today in a statement. "As Bill Ford has consistently said, we will always consider both internal and external candidates for any succession plan, but we do not have a search under way for an external CEO successor."
Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr., who has indicated the company would like to fill the CEO post from within, told the paper in a statement the automaker "has a strong list of internal candidates and the board is pleased to support their further development. While our preference always will be to develop talent internally, we also survey the external environment for potential candidates as a regular course of action."
Mulally has led a successful turnaround at Ford and his replacement is among the biggest strategic matters hanging over the automaker.
Ford's North American automotive operations had lost $9 billion in the previous five years when Bill Ford stepped down and recruited Mulally from Boeing in 2006.
The automaker has posted profits for 10 consecutive quarters, including $1.65 billion in net earnings during the third quarter this year.
"Having a viable succession plan to ensure business continuity is perhaps the most important duty of the Board and something we take very seriously," Bill Ford told the paper.
Ford's board has not retained a recruiting firm to screen candidates, but external prospects have been approached by the automaker to gauge their interest, people familiar with the matter told the Journal.
Ford did not retain an executive search firm when it recruited Mulally.
An unidentified former Ford executive familiar with the automaker's thinking told the Journal that Ford wanted the next CEO "to emulate Mulally, someone with the same temperament, the same management style."
Martens oversaw product development at Ford until 2005, when he left the company and later became president and COO of Plastech Engineered Products.
He later joined automotive supplier ArvinMeritor Inc. before becoming chief at Novelis in April 2009.
Krafcik served in product development roles at Ford for 14 years before departing for Hyundai in 2004.
He has overseen a major overhaul of the Korean automaker's U.S. product lineup and marketing efforts that have resulted in record sales and market share.