Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally has led one of the great corporate transformations, but his legacy is not in profits – billions of them these past few years – but in creating a senior executive team, any one of whom could quite effectively run the company and carry on the relatively new "One Ford" way of doing things.
The obvious heir apparent is COO Mark Fields, who's 52. Fields chairs the weekly Thursday morning management meeting of senior vice presidents. Mulally sits in, but Fields runs the show. And these are must-attend meetings for all of Ford's senior brass.
A couple of years ago, I was doing an early Thursday morning interview with Joe Hinrichs, now president of the Americas at Ford, at the company's world headquarters. At precisely 7:55 a.m., in popped Mulally. We had 20 seconds of chit-chat and introductions, at which point he turned to Hinrichs and said, "See you at eight, Joe; you're the star today."
As Mulally said this, Hinrichs was gathering the papers on his desk, readying to go down the hall from his office to the conference room. I asked, "Is anyone ever late to the meeting?"
"Occasionally," Hinrichs said.
"What happens if someone is late a second time?"
"It's never happened," Hinrichs said.
The executives in that meeting – in person or by video conference – are the leadership at Ford. If for some reason Fields is unable or unwilling or fails to get the CEO appointment, Hinrichs could quite conceivably get the job. Or it could be Steve Odell, who runs Ford of Europe. Or one of the others in that room, including Jim Farley, head of global marketing and the Lincoln brand.
My point: Ford has a number of senior people ready, able and (I assume) willing to take the top job. There is a succession plan in place and it's flexible because the "team of rivals" in that Thursday morning meeting all publicly own the One Ford mantra that has become gospel.
When Mulally leaves, Ford will be fine. Perhaps the company will be better for it, in fact. Young, fresh new leadership can do that.
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