Alan Mulally

Alan Mulally has emerged as a hero when it comes to American manufacturing. He came to Ford in 2006 after serving as head of Boeing's commercial aircraft division, streamlined operations, sold off the costly elements of its Premier Automotive Group and saved Ford from having to be bailed out by the federal government like its cross-town rivals Chrysler and General Motors did. But as we reported mere days ago, he's widely expected to step down from the chief executive's office at Ford shortly.

So what's next for one of the most successful executives in the business? Hard to say, but don't expect Mulally to disappear into retirement. Though he didn't ultimately take the top job at Microsoft, industry insiders expect to see him in another influential position – likely as a board director or even chairman of another company. (We say "another company" and not Ford because while Bill Ford may have stepped aside as CEO to bring Mulally on board in the first place, we don't see him giving up his chairmanship of the board also.)

Mulally has likely already lined up his next move, and could either announce what that move will be as soon as Ford confirms Mark Fields as his successor, or could wait awhile. Insiders speculate that he could leverage his transportation and aerospace experience into a position at General Electric or a major airline, his manufacturing expertise to benefit a company like Procter & Gamble or his management skills at a consultancy firm.