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AP photo
Ford Motor Co. is expected to soon name its current chief of North America and South America the new chief operating officer, thus all but cementing his position as CEO Alan Mulally's replacement at the auto maker next year.

Mulally, 67, is expected to step down at the end of 2013, according to a report by Bloomberg News that also was the first to report on Fields' likely promotion, which was a topic discussed by Ford's board of directors on September 13.

Fields has technically been vying for the top job with one other insider at Ford--Joe Hinrichs, 45, who is currently head of Ford Asia Pacific. The Ford board, to fulfill due diligence on succession planning, has also looked at other candidates inside and outside the company.

But for at least two years, the job has been Fields' to lose.

Ford has not yet made a formal announcement on Mulally's retirement date, or Fields' promotion. But company sources said it was on the agenda at the meeting this week. There has been much anticipation about Mulally's succession because the former Boeing executive has been so successful in turning Ford around, and is seen as a tough act to follow.

Besides running the territory Ford calls The Americas, which has been the most successful part of Ford's comeback, Fields has previously held the top job at Mazda, as well as Ford of Europe and the company's now-defunct Premium Auto Group, which had included brands Ford has sold--Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo and Aston Martin. So, he has extensive operational experience in charge of a profit-and-loss.

Fields was the principal architect of Ford's comeback plan that Mulally inherited in 2006 and built upon. He also has been what many Ford watchers would call a very professional face on Ford. He is known to be close to Ford chairman Bill Ford.

How has he done with his territory of responsibility? In 2011, Ford North America reported a pre-tax operating profit of $6.2 billion, up from $5.4 billion a year ago. South America earned $861 million in ore-tax profit in 2011, down from $1 billion the year earlier.

Bleeding Ford Blue

Lands-End-catalog good looks and very fit from frequent work-outs, Fields can look like an actor cast as a CEO, which can make people inside and outside the company doubt his grit and ability to relate to workers on the line, a necessity in the car business. "There is much more to Mark than his critics have given him credit for," says one Ford high-ranking executive. "He has learned a lot under Mulally about how to lead people and how to get people to follow."

Fields has not always been a happy warrior at Ford. In a previous interview with AOL Autos, Bill Ford told us that Fields was among those executives unhappy about Mulally's appointment as CEO in September 2006. Bill Ford gave up his CEO title to the former Boeing executive, and several executives who believed they were in line for the job walked into his office to grouse. "I told Mark that day that working for Alan would make him a much better CEO when the time came," Ford told AOL Autos.

Indeed, Mulally is widely credited with bringing an extraordinary level of operational discipline to the company's executive committee, forcing senior managers to be accountable to a single plan. Prior to his arrival, Ford operated in competitive fiefdoms that often undercut one another. Fields will benefit enormously from continuing the new system. Without Mulally, it probably never would have been driven into the culture and operations.

Fields has also not always been a favorite of dealers or the automotive media covering Ford, both camps having viewed him as too flashy--an outsider who had come to Ford from outside the auto industry--when he returned to Dearborn headquarters after stints in Europe and Asia. Magazine profiles on Fields often mentioned his mullet haircut that he has since tamed now that he is beyond 50.

In recent years, and especially since Mulally took over, Fields has demonstrated both grit, work ethic and a "bleed blue" attitude when it comes to Ford. When Ford was working its way through the financial meltdown in 2008 and 2009, Fields took on then-chief-financial-officer Don Leclair whom he thought was focused too much on nickels and dimes instead of how competitive Ford was going to be against Toyota and Nissan.

At one meeting, reported in Bill Vlasic's Once Upon A Car: The Fall and Resurrection of America's Big Three Automakers, Fields and Leclair even lunged at each other and had to be separated by Bill Ford. Fields' broad view of the industry, and of Ford's place in it, easily allowed him to win that battle and Leclair took early retirement.

Fields also got onto the pubic radar in 2006 when it was reported that the automaker was paying for Fields to fly back and forth to Florida on the weekends to see his family. After several overseas posts, Fields had decided to locate his family, especially his school-age kids, in Florida near extended family for stability rather than Dearborn where he has lived in a condo. The optics of the expense were bad, and his contract was restructured so that Ford was not paying directly for his frequent flights. It was an attempt at a "gotcha" by some members of the media that had a very short shelf life, mainly because Fields has been a very effective executive for Ford.

There will be enormous continuity at Ford by having Fields follow Mulally. And the likelihood is that Ford will keep Hinrichs, a very capable and highly regarded executive, with the most likely scenario being that he follows Fields as chief of the Americas or COO. The company also has James Farley in the role of global marketing chief, making for a solid and proven group steering Ford.

Fields came to Ford in 1989 at age 28 after a stint at IBM. He is married and has two sons. He earned his undergraduate degree at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and an MBA from Harvard. Once a Jersey boy always a Jersey boy, he is a season ticket holder for the New York Giants, though he has told us the Detroit Lions, owned by the Ford family, is his second team.
Unless outside events get in the way, Fields will take over for Mullaly in early 2014.

What will be the chief tasks and challenges of the Fields era?

1. Ford's sales and market share, as well as its profitability, must improve in the face of a strengthening Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai and even Chrysler. One of the issues he must tackle even before taking the top job is the pricing of high volume models. The brand new Fusion sedan will be launched with $1,000 rebates. And there are Focus sedans sitting in dealer lots with sticker prices around $25,000.

2. Ford has a very thin strategy when it comes to luxury and premium vehicles. The company has committed to a new round of investment in the Lincoln brand when few independent voices believe the brand can be made viable against brands like BMW, Lexus or even cross-town rival Cadillac. There is no identifiable executive "in charge of Lincoln." Fields would do better winding Lincoln down, and starting from scratch as Toyota did with Lexus.

3. He must drive greater discipline into product development and design to improve Ford's batting average on new models. The Ford Taurus, Ford Flex, Lincoln MKT and Lincoln MKS have all been marketplace duds. Marketing launches of vehicles have been un-even, with huge victories on Ford Fiesta, Ford Explorer and Escape, but losses on products like Flex and Lincoln. He also must sort out Ford's move to high-tech interiors that have been heavily criticized by Consumer Reports and driven down quality ratings.

4. Fields must accelerate Ford's foray into China where it lagged its competitors. And he must aggressively restructure Ford Europe in the face of flagging economies overseas. Having run Ford Europe for a time, Fields has strong opinions and skills about how Europe shield be run, reformed and resized for better profits.

5. Fields will have to manage Ford's anemic share price upward. It has languished between $10.00 and $12.00 for two years, while the broader stock market has surged. Wall Street likes Mulally as CEO, but not enough to move the share price up so long as these other bedrock issues remain unresolved.

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      • 2 Years Ago
      I heard you were going to start making the vehicles out of tin to keep up with the fuel emission standards. Don't sacrifice our safety!! Please bring back the beauty of the cars and trucks as well. Whomever is in your design department has really messed up . Even the tail lights on the trucks are ugly, and I was thinking about purchasing one. I'm holding out until you build something nicer. Keep the chrome look, and make the trucks look like the boss of the road again!! Good luck, Mr. Mulally!! We'll miss you.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Time to restructure the entire Ford Hierarchy........Bill Ford are you listening? Mulally is brilliant - Fields is not. - nor is Hinrich or Farley......... Just restructure so that Mulally remains "boss" ...... call him what you want but he NEEDS to remain in charge. CEO COO CFO ..... change all the titles you want BUT Mulally needs to remain ...... "THE BOSS". Whether it's publicized or not.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Billy, and Mark should have been canned before the hiring of Mually. GM will bite them with Mark at the controls of his plane to Florida. Joe has more skills, but is abit young. In the long run, he would be the better leader, and coach.
      • 2 Years Ago
      We were hit with a $500 insurance increase for my wife's Honda. Both of us have a perfect driving record with no claims ever. Shocked by this increase I went online to get some quotes for her car. The two sites I first visited were actually more expensive than our new rate, but then I found ( http://tinyurl.com/BestInsuranceQuotes ) I got a quote within minutes and ended up saving over $300 on our car insurance!
      • 2 Years Ago
      Have owned and driven more Fords than anything else, drive a Freestar now and wish I could afford a Flex or a Transit Connect, or could get the Ranger we won't get here. As to Lincoln, it's just not distinct enough from the comparable Fords (though the Lincoln version of the Flex is growing on me). Lincoln has no identity with the letter names-names like Capri, Town Car, Continental, Mark, were identifiable.
      • 2 Years Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      How much is this guy going to make?? Watch it be a gazilllion dollars with stock options and cars and boats and trips and homes>>> Gotta love CEO's while the rest of us cant find jobs or working at Starbucks
      • 2 Years Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      ford still has a lot to do to become a good car company. can you imagine anyone moving to Florida to educate their kids. Hope his management of Ford is better
      • 2 Years Ago
      He must get rid of the One Ford inititive. Make the American Fords as American styled and not redos of the european asian versions of car. You have destroyed many models that ha dlong standing repete buyers in order to sell more cars over seas. Junk cars like the new escape, the ugly explorer, the B max, and cmax which are hideous Mazdas basically. He must give Ford that American look and feel and seperate the models from the out of country models as we have much different needs and wants in American then in europe. Redo lincoln completely as the current front ends make the cars so ugly who would want one. Give some nice body lines and ditcht the pontiac split bird beak look on lincoln and dump the triangle grilles on the Fords.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Put Mulally on R's team in Janurary
      • 2 Years Ago
      I just hope Fields is a better CEO for Ford than the new CEO of Best Buy. His ideas will run Best Buy the rest of the way into the ground. Sorry to see Mulally go -- he's done a great job with Ford.
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