There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks that Alan Mulally could replace Microsoft's departing CEO, Steve Ballmer. As many people have pointed out, it's a lot closer to home for Mulally, who is from Seattle, and like the Lone Ranger, his work is done at Ford.
Ford has reassured everyone that Mulally is not leaving, but that hasn't stopped the speculation. Succession always makes for interesting conversation. And ever since the days of Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca, there has been plenty of gossip at Ford.
It doesn't really matter whether everyone at Ford wants Mulally to stay. The question is whether Mulally is happy. It would take many millions to tempt him to leave his comfortable spot at Ford, but it may be that he would like to put an end to 10 hours a week of commuting.
Ford officials are right when they say that the company is prepared for his eventual departure. The succession plan is in place -- from Mark Fields, presumably the next CEO, to all the other players. It will not be easy for Fields or anyone else to follow in Mulally's footsteps, but it will happen.
And General Motors is ready for succession, too. When Dan Akerson leaves, the company has both automotive and financial executives ready to take over as CEO. In former days, GM had a finance guy based in New York as chairman and a president based in Detroit running the car company. I doubt that history counts for much at GM. We'll see what the board decides.
The real question seems to be at Chrysler. We all know who runs Chrysler and Fiat. The question is about No. 2 through No. 10.
If Sergio Marchionne left tomorrow, the place would dissolve quickly without leadership. We always can hope that, like Harry Truman, a star might rise out of nowhere. But if I were in the Elkann family, I would be a little bit worried.
If Chrysler-Fiat has a succession plan, it's a secret. Marchionne likes to promote, as he calls it, tension among his executives. But the company needs some sort of succession strategy. Its shareholders, employees and dealers all deserve to have some understanding of the future.
The contrast between Chrysler and Ford is sharp. For now, Mulally stays. When he leaves, it will be a tough spot to fill, but Ford is ready. There will be no surprises.