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Ford prepares one of its smoothest successions to date

Incoming chief executive Mark Fields

A change of leadership at Ford Motor Company has been accelerated six months and declared one of the smoothest in the family business’s history, according to the fourth-gen executive chairman.

On Thursday, the US carmaker announced Alan Mulally, 68, who steered the company through the global financial downturn, would be stepping down as chief executive and president on 1 July.

Mark Fields, 53, who has been the company’s chief operating officer since December 2012, will replace him.

Executive chairman Bill Ford, a great grandson of industrial icon and company founder Henry Ford, said the succession looked to be one of the smoothest in its history, revealing planning began almost immediately after Mulally was appointed to the top job in 2006.

“From the first day we discussed Ford’s transformation eight years ago, Alan and I agreed that developing the next generation of leaders and ensuring an orderly CEO succession were among our highest priorities,” Ford said in a statement.

Under Mulally, Ford achieved 19 consecutive quarters of profitability, and embarked upon the company’s most ambitious global expansion in the past half century.

“Under Alan’s leadership, Ford not only survived the global economic crisis, it emerged as one of the world’s strongest auto companies,” Ford said.

Incoming chief executive Fields has already been responsible for leading Ford’s global business operations, as well as many divisions within the company, including product development, manufacturing, purchasing, service, marketing and sales.

Mulally had planned to retire at the end of the year, but recommended accelerating the succession process due to the readiness of Ford’s leadership team.

At a press briefing about the leadership change, Ford praised Mulally for being able to “let go” – something he said many “hall of fame” CEOs struggled with.

“By working together with all of our stakeholders around the world, we now are accelerating Henry Ford’s original vision to open the highways to all mankind,” Ford said.

Ford was founded in 1903 and while the family only owns 2% of Ford's common stock, it retains control with 40% of the voting stock. Elena Ford, who was appointed vice president at the company last year, represents the fifth generation of family leadership at the company.

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