Ford Motor Chief Executive Alan Mulally finally got the message that the incessant speculation about him departing to become CEO of Microsoft was hurting the automaker.
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And so he delivered his own message Tuesday: “I would like to end the Microsoft speculation because I have no other plans to do anything other than serve Ford.”
In an interview with the Associated Press, Mulally, 68, made his most unequivocal denial yet in an apparent bid to end investor concern about his departure: “You don’t have to worry about me leaving.” Mulally wouldn’t say if he had talked to Microsoft about the job, but he said the speculation was a distraction for Ford.
His remarks came just days before the global auto industry and thousands of automotive journalists converge in Detroit for the North American International Auto Show. Ford is expected to steal the limelight at the show with a radical redesign of its most important vehicle, the F-150 pickup truck.
Indeed, with a slew of new products coming in 2014, including the 50th anniversary Ford Mustang, the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKC crossovers, and the Transit commercial van, Ford can’t afford to have the focus on anything other than its vehicles.
Mulally and Ford’s board of directors, including Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr., let the speculation drag on for far too long. But in some ways, it was out of their hands. Ford insiders believe Microsoft repeatedly leaked information about its succession plans in an effort to gauge investor reaction. But as I wrote back in November, the long flirtation wasn’t fair to Ford.
No on is saying whether Mulally was offered the Microsoft job and turned it down, or whether the software maker decided it wanted someone else. I’m sure that, too, will leak out eventually. But at least the speculation is over. “Alan made it perfectly clear that he wanted to end all speculation. He has no plans to do anything else other than continue serving Ford,” said a Ford spokesman, Jay Cooney.
The question now is how long Mulally will stay at Ford, and who will succeed him. Cooney said nothing had changed about Mulally’s plan to stay “at least through 2014.” That plan was announced in November 2012, at the same time Mark Fields, president of the Americas, was promoted to chief operating officer, making him likely next in line for the CEO’s job.
One potential alternative storyline that industry pundits are kicking around: John Krafcik, chief executive of Hyundai Motor America, was recently released from his contract. He’s a former Ford executive who is now available to lead another carmaker.
My money’s still on Fields, however. He has paid his dues and earned the respect of Ford’s board and the Ford family for steering the automaker’s North American business through one of the most dangerous periods in history. He is ready to serve — when the CEO’s office becomes available.
In the meantime, with the Detroit auto show just around the corner, the focus is where it should be: on the vehicles.