Ford announced this morning that CEO Alan Mulally is staying on through at least the end of 2014. It promoted Mark Fields to chief operating officer, a scoop that Bloomberg got a few months back. A bunch of other guys at Ford received promotions, including Jim Farley, now the global marketing boss, who also gets a bonus: Lincoln.
Mulally came to Ford six years ago from Boeing, and he seemed kind of alarmed this summer when rumors went around that he might be on the way out. He's 67, so the extension means he'll be around through his 69th birthday. That's fine with Ford Chairman Bill Ford. "I've never enjoyed working with anyone so much. I'd like him to stay around forever," Ford said at a news briefing.
In another era, Mulally would have been required to retire at 65, but given how vigorous he is and how long people are now working all across the economy (not to mention federal labor laws), there's no reason to think he can't be in charge at Ford until he's 70. After all, the Detroit Tigers are keeping Jim Leyland another year.
Fields is getting major day-to-day operating responsibilities, which includes all of Ford's automotive business. That means he'll be overseeing the turnaround at Ford's European business, which is on track to lose $1.5 billion. He's also going to oversee Ford's weekly Thursday management meeting, which might not mean much outside Ford but has great meaning inside the company as a place where key decisions get kicked around.
Essentially, it's Fields' audition to replace Mulally as CEO, which is by no means certain. As Bill Ford said, "Don't read anything beyond this." Although he thinks the next CEO will come from inside, Ford pointed out that it's his responsibility to look at talent from within Ford and outside the company, too. But Ford made an interesting comment about company culture. "Nobody wants to go back to the days of back biting and empire building," he said, which seems aimed at all those executives who Ford has said wouldn't let him take the steps he wanted when he was CEO.
Sadly, the announcement makes clear that Detroit, or at least Ford, is still a treehouse. All seven of the executives involved in the promotions announcement are men, and a look around Ford's top corporate leadership shows only one woman with a senior title, and she wasn't mentioned today. At least at General Motors, Mary Barra is on the lists of potential CEOs, although you'd have to think Steve Girsky considers himself first in line. You might say this doesn't matter, and that there are now lots of women in important jobs across the industry. But when companies claim diversity is a priority and then hands out the first class tickets only to the guys, the women who work at those places notice.