Despite the fact that his name was not stated in any of the official statements regarding last week's executive shuffle at Ford Motor Co., President of the Americas Mark Fields may have benefited the most. The company disclosed that two veterans and architects of its turnaround will retire. These executives are worldwide product development boss Derrick Kuzak and CFO Lewis Booth.
A well-informed dealer source and a former executive at Ford have disclosed late last week that Fields is moving closer to taking the seat of CEO Alan Mulally. On April 1, Bob Shanks, who is the controller for the Americas, will replace Booth. Shanks is one of Fields' top allies at Ford. He is Fields' long-time associate way back when they were part of Mazda Motor Corp. in Japan, where Fields was president.
They were also associates at Premier Automotive Group in London and Ford of Europe in Cologne. On the other hand, Raj Nair will succeed Kuzak. He is presently serving as Ford's vice president of engineering for worldwide product development. He has worked under both Shanks and Fields. In his new role, he will report directly to Mulally and also to Fields on North American matters.
Nair and Shanks will become part of a new close-knit group of executives that Ford is shaping up to make the transition from the Mulally-Booth-Kuzak generation that presided over the company's recovery, says Autonews. The new team has worked together worldwide. This team is anticipated to lead the company in a more stable era that will highlight growth outside the U.S.
Last week, Mulally reiterated that he is not in a hurry to retire. Chief Auto Analyst Adam Jonas at Morgan Stanley commented that Shanks' appointment as CFO "almost seals the deal that Fields will succeed Mulally." He added that Shanks had been "like Fields' personal CFO, if you will." The former Ford executive agreed, stating that it "seems the path is already very clear."
Being considered as chief rival of Fields for the top spot is Joe Hinrichs, who is the president of Asia Pacific and Africa and the CEO of Ford Motor China Ltd. Last week, he was charged with boosting Ford's sales in Asia, where the company is building seven facilities. His success in that position will determine not only the company's worldwide success for years but also his own opportunities at the top job.
Last week, the automaker emphasized its plans of expanding in China, which is the biggest automobile market in the world, by naming Jon Huntsman Jr. to its board of directors. He was a former U.S. ambassador to China. The addition of Huntsman to the board is likely to help Ford in China. As a result, it will also aid Hinrichs in the CEO race.