DETROIT -– Several Ford dealers welcomed news that the Ford Motor Co. board of directors may be preparing a succession plan to move the company forward after CEO Alan Mulally retires.
Bloomberg on Tuesday reported Ford's board is likely to name Ford President of the Americas Mark Fields as COO, putting him in line to succeed Alan Mulally as CEO. Bloomberg, citing a person familiar with the plan, reported Mulally may retire at the end of next year.
The board is scheduled to meet on Thursday.
Mulally has been a beloved figure among Ford dealers since he invited about 4,000 of them to a meeting at Ford Field in Detroit in 2006 and told an assemblage of Ford employees to shout "we love you" in unison to the dealers. Most dealers credit Mulally's plan to mortgage the company's assets and borrow about $23 billion with saving Ford from bankruptcy.
Larry Taylor, dealer principal at Beau Townsend Ford in Vandalia, Ohio, said: "We hoped to keep Alan forever. We love him and he's a gift from God, but Mark is really capable. He has been groomed and tutored under Alan."
End of a distraction?
Jim Seavitt, owner of Village Ford near Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., applauded the move and said the succession question has "been distracting at Ford. It makes Ford look like they're not sure what they're going to do."
Seavitt, whose dealership Mulally visited shortly after taking over as CEO in 2006, said naming Fields COO would give him time to work even more closely with Mulally in transition.
As a member of an ad hoc dealer advisory group, Seavitt has worked closely with Fields the last couple of years.
"Mark has decided that becoming more dealer centric is a goal for him. I think that was very important to Alan and very important to Mark."
"He definitely has the ear of the dealer and the dealer has had his ear," says Seavitt.
Transforming the culture
Randall Reed, CEO of the Addison, Texas-based World Class Automotive Group, which owns five Ford dealerships and two Lincoln stores, praised Mulally for transforming Ford's culture.
"The greatest thing Alan could have ever done with that company is made it everyone's, not just his," Reed said. He described Fields as a "a ninja warrior who will accomplish great things."
Mitchell Dale, owner of McRee Ford in Dickinson, Texas, was happy to hear Ford has a plan in place.
"Mark Fields has done a great job in his career at Ford. If you look at the product cycle that happened at Mazda (where Fields was president and CEO from 2000-2002) and when he came over to Ford, he was very actively involved in the product cycle we have today. Our vehicles today are terrific."
Terry Kidd, owner of Kidd Ford in Morrison, Tenn., said he has worked with Fields during the past two years, when Kidd has served as chairman of Ford's Select Dealers, the 1,800 smallest dealers in the country.
"I like Mark. I think he has the same values as Alan," he said.
Kidd praised Chairman Bill Ford for hiring Mulally in the first place.
"I truly admire Bill Ford for going out on a limb and hiring Alan. He had a lot of guts to do that. As a dealer I will always be indebted to him. We're in better shape as a dealer body than some of our competition."
Bloomberg reported a source saying that possible candidates to replace Fields in his Americas job include Joe Hinrichs, head of Ford's Asia-Pacific and Africa regions and Jim Farley, global marketing chief.