Fields, 53, emerged as Mulally’s likely successor when he was promoted to COO in December 2012. The New Jersey native was tapped to become Ford’s No. 2 executive after leading the automaker’s North American operations from deep losses to record profits.
“Thank you for leaving us this gift of a transformed Ford that we can all build on going forward,” Fields said to Mulally during a news conference today. "I'm so blessed to be surrounded by a talented management team."
Fields said his COO position won't be filled.
“I am very passionate about product,” he added. “We will maintain and accelerate that product passion as we go forward.”
Mulally also will be giving up his Ford board seat.
Bill Ford, in an interview later this morning on CNBC, acknowledged the company looked at external candidates.
"Clearly I did look outside because I have to, but you know, I kept coming back internally, as did Alan, to Mark," Ford said. "He’s part of the culture of Ford that is so positive."
Mulally, in a CNBC interview, said Fields has been the clear front-runner for the job.
"To watch him step up and do this job, and with his belief in the strategy, we have the right guy at the right time to take Ford forward," Mulally said.
Ford and Mulally also said they mutually agreed to make Mulally's departure a "clean break" as of July 1 rather than keeping an outgoing CEO on the company's board.
The transition will bring an end to a storied chapter in Ford’s history.
Shortly after Mulally arrived from Boeing Co. in September 2006, he carried out a plan to borrow $23 billion to see the company through the rough times ahead. The loan allowed Ford to avoid the bailouts and bankruptcies that befell the predecessors of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group.
Ford has earned $42.3 billion in the last five years after losing $30.1 billion from 2006 through 2008. Last year, rising sales of Escape SUVs, F-series pickups and Fusion sedans helped drive Ford’s pretax earnings in North America to a record $8.78 billion.
Ford’s first-quarter net income this year fell 39 percent, marking its weakest quarter since 2010.
Mulally, 68, who had repeatedly said he would stay at Ford through the end of the year, decided to accelerate his departure because of the “readiness of Ford’s leadership team,” according to the statement.
“We are absolutely fully confident that the team is ready,” Mulally said during the news conference. “This is really a good time to do it.”
Mulally has been lining up a substantial corporate position for his next act, probably as a board director or chairman, people with knowledge of his plans have said.
Mulally declined today to comment on his plans after retirement.
"I'm not speculating on anything today," Mulally said in an interview, noting he is still focusing on the transition at Ford.
Mulally wants to remain a player in the corporate world, giving voice to the importance of manufacturing and innovation in America, the people said. Over 45 years at Boeing and Ford, he became a specialist on management and doing business in Asia, advising President Barack Obama on international trade.