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Associated Press photos
Ford Motor Co. President and CEO Alan Mulally, left, and Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. announce Thursday that Mulally will retire July 1 and be replaced by Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields.

Ford shifting leadership

Mulally retires July 1; heir apparent Fields tapped as CEO

As Ford’s chief operating officer, Fields has been running executive meetings and day- to-day operations since 2012.

– Mark Fields, who helped turn Ford Motor Co.'s North American operations into a sales and profit powerhouse, will take over from Alan Mulally as CEO on July 1.

The 53-year-old Fields has been Ford's chief operating officer since late 2012 and has been running executive meetings and day-to-day operations.

He was widely seen as Mulally's heir apparent.

Ford wasn't expected to make the transition until the end of the year, but the company said it moved up the schedule at Mulally's request. Mulally, 68, who came to Ford from Boeing in 2006, is credited with transforming the automaker from a dysfunctional money-loser to a thriving company.

In orchestrating that transformation, Mulally relied heavily on a strategy that Fields drew up in 2005, when Ford's big North American division was losing money, burdened by too many factories and lackluster car designs. Fields' plan called for closing factories, laying off thousands of workers and using Ford's design expertise in Europe to build better cars that could be sold globally.

Bill Ford, executive chairman, told the Associated Press that Fields is humble about his achievements but has been an advocate within the company for advanced technology and better products.

“Every job the company's ever asked him to do, he's done a really good job of it,” Ford said.

Fields takes the CEO job during a transition year at Ford. The company expects pretax profit to fall to between $7 billion and $8 billion from $8.5 billion in 2013, as it launches a record 23 vehicles worldwide and builds seven plants, including four in China. It's also preparing to launch an aluminum-clad F-150 pickup this year, which could reap profits down the road but will be expensive to prepare for.

Ford's top executives said Thursday that the system of transparency and accountability that Mulally has instilled will help the company deal with challenges.

“We know how to deal with reality now, and we can deal with it in a way that's positive and collaborative,” Bill Ford said.

Mulally had spent 36 years at Boeing – and was president of the company's commercial airplane division – when Bill Ford lured him to the automaker eight years ago.

Mulally overcame skepticism about being an outsider in the insular ranks of Detroit car guys by quickly pinpointing the reasons why Ford was losing billions each year. He put a stop to the infighting that had paralyzed the company and instituted weekly management meetings where executives faced new levels of accountability and were encouraged to work together to solve problems.

According to Bill Ford, Fields embraced Mulally's call for change early on, even though he had been passed over for the CEO job. Bill Ford said Fields' decision to stay at Ford and learn from Mulally showed a lot of fortitude. Mulally helped smooth some of the rough edges that had sometimes made the Brooklyn, N.Y.-born Fields hard to work with.

“I have nothing left to teach or tell Mark about. He knows everything,” Mulally said.