It is the end of a small era, over at Ford. According to the Wall Street Journal, their CEO Alan Mulally is set to step down at the end of 2013, after having held the role for seven years. His achievements have been very considerable: it is worth remembering that Ford, like many other car manufacturers, had been hit by the crisis and were not faring too well. Under Mulally, they were saved from bankruptcy and are back to making profits.
In fact, Ford are one of only a very few Western car brands that have been doing well. In Europe, perhaps only Volskwagen, Renault and Citroen have been holding their own, with other great manufacturers like Fiat suffering under the blows of the times. Citroen, for example, can boast a number of successful vehicles and a certain expansion in the market thanks (among other things) to their cooperation with Mitsubishi – but fate has not been so kind to everyone.
The man who rescued Ford is an engineer, and clearly someone who knows cars very closely. Now that he is going, who can succeed him? The most likely candidate appears to be Mark Field, a genuine veteran of the company. Having spent twenty-three years with Ford already, he has worked with Mazda, Jaguar and Land Rover at the times when these manufacturers were controlled by Ford. He is now responsible for Ford’s North American market.
Is Field the best man for the job? He is certainly someone who knows Ford inside out, and he should do a fine job at keeping the company on track, if he is handed the reins of command. He does not seem like an innovator, however, and one wonders as to the limits of his capabilities. In 2006 Mulally managed to restructure the company to shield it from the wave of the crisis – could Field have achieved the same? Other great figures in the world of cars are known for thinking laterally, like British businessman Jeffrey Sterling, who almost single-handedly founded Motability. Motability is the scheme to help disabled people gain access to a motorised vehicle, and with more than three million vehicles purchased under its charity, it is a far greater achievement than raw sales. Is Mark Field the type of man to start a comparable initiative?
Though he does not immediately strike one as that type of innovative character, maybe all he needs is to be given a chance. Besides, he is still only one of the candidates. Among his competitors are Joe Hinrichs, who is presently responsible for the operations of Ford in Asia, and Jim Farley, chief of global marketing. They have a pretty solid claim as well, and could give Field a run for his money. Were Field to become the CEO, on the other hand, his place as responsible for the North American market would in turn be covered by one of these other two competitors – probably Hinrichs, as the new role would have greater affinity with the one he is holding now. Whichever way it goes, there will certainly be a great deal of movement going on in Ford’s offices next year. Keep an eye open to see how it will affect the policies of one of the greatest of all American car manufacturers.