DEARBORN, Mich. — Alan Mulally, the man who transformed Ford Motor Co. from a dysfunctional money-loser to a thriving company, will retire July 1 and be replaced by Mark Fields, the current chief operating officer.
During his eight-year tenure at Ford, Mulally gambled all of the company's assets on a credit line that kept Ford out of bankruptcy, then used a simple "One Ford" plan to change the company's culture. He was hired away from aircraft maker Boeing Co. in 2006 by Bill Ford, who at the time was running the company.
Fields, 53, has been in charge of Ford's daily operations since December of 2012 and was widely expected to one day ascend to the top job. The change in leadership is taking place about six months ahead of schedule, but Ford said that was based on Mulally's recommendation that the new leaders were ready.
"Alan and I feel strongly that Mark and the entire leadership team are absolutely ready to lead Ford forward, and now is the time to begin the transition," Bill Ford said in a statement Thursday morning. Bill Ford, the company's executive chairman, is the great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford.
Mulally, 68, was trained as an aeronautical engineer. He spent 36 years at Boeing — and was president of the company's commercial airplane division — when Bill Ford lured him to the struggling automaker eight years ago. Mulally overcame skepticism about being an outsider in the insular ranks of Detroit car guys by quickly pinpointing the reasons why Ford was losing billions each year. Mulally put a stop to the infighting that had paralyzed the company and instituted weekly management meetings where executives faced new levels of accountability and were encouraged to work together to solve problems.
It took two years for Mulally to turn the company around, but since 2009, Ford has posted pretax profits of $34.5 billion and its shares have more than doubled.
Fields was one of the executives passed over when Mulally got the top job in 2006. When he was named COO in 2012, Bill Ford said Fields' decision to stay at Ford and learn from Mulally showed a lot of fortitude and has made Fields a better leader.
"There was a lot of speculation about whether he was capable. To his great credit, he stuck to it, he learned from it and showed tremendous fortitude in grinding through an incredibly difficult process," Bill Ford said.
This marks the second change in leadership at the top of one of the Detroit automakers this year. Mary Barra took over as CEO for Dan Akerson at General Motors in January.
Fields joined Ford as a market research analyst in 1989 and quickly rose through the company's ranks. Less than a decade later, in 1997, he was running the company's operations in Argentina. In 2000, he became the youngest CEO ever at a Japanese company when Ford installed him as head of Mazda Motor Co., which Ford controlled at the time.
There, he oversaw the catchy "Zoom Zoom" ad campaign. He was later head of Ford's European division and its luxury brands, which struggled with losses despite his tough medicine, including the closure of a historic Jaguar plant in Britain.
Fields returned to Ford's Dearborn headquarters in 2005 to become president of the Americas. As the company struggled to make a profit, Fields hashed out a plan to turn around Ford's money-losing North American operations by closing factories, laying off thousands of workers and using Ford's design expertise in Europe to build better cars.
Supporters say Fields is an excellent strategist with a deep knowledge of the business. His international experience is invaluable as Ford restructures its European operations and focuses on growth in volatile young markets like Asia and South America.
Fields is friendly and polished, with sharp suits and a bit of a swagger. He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., the youngest of three sons. At the New York Auto Show in April, he showed a home movie of his family at the 1964 World's Fair in New York. He remembered the excitement of the crowd when he was lifted on his father's shoulders to see the new Ford Mustang.
Fields was raised in Paramus, N.J., and earned a bachelor's degree from Rutgers University in 1983. He sold computers for IBM before earning an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1989.
Like Barra, who became the first female CEO of a big automaker at GM, Fields will be breaking a mold at Ford. He is the first Jewish chief executive at the 111-year-old company.
Ford shares fell 12 cents to $16.03 in early trading Thursday.