Ford Motor Co. today made several big-name executive and boardroom announcements, including the appointment of a recent Republican presidential candidate, but none changed the almost certain succession of CEO and President Alan Mulally.
Mulally announced Thursday that chief financial officer Lewis Booth and group vice president and global product development chief Derrick Kuzak are retiring effective April 1. Booth will be replaced by vice president and controller Bob Shanks, and Kuzak will be replaced by vice president of engineering and global product development Raj Nair. Both successions involve long-time Ford executives who have been groomed for the top jobs, and represent orderly transition at Ford.
Ford's board of directors, which cleared the new executive appointments in its Wednesday meeting this week, also announced the addition of former Utah Governor, U.S. Ambassador to China and recent Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. to the board. Huntsman represents an addition, as there were no board retirements. Ford is playing catch-up with some of its competitors in China, and Huntsman is viewed as being a strong adviser to Ford and an advocate for the automaker in China.
“Jon brings to Ford’s board of directors extensive global knowledge and experience – particularly in Asia with trade issues – and operational experience gained as governor of Utah, a state that has grown jobs even during the economic crisis,” said Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford. “Jon understands the importance of strengthening the country’s manufacturing base, which will contribute to our success going forward.”
Kuzak has been instrumental in leading Ford's transformation from a company that developed new models regionally, with multiple cars in the same segments being developed and produced for the U.S., Europe, Asia, South America and Australia, to a company moving to make all its passenger cars on single global platforms with only cosmetic changes to account for local tastes.
Perhaps the newest and best example of the new "One Ford" strategy under Mulally's leadership and executive team is the 2013 Ford Fusion and Mondeo. Though the mid-sized cars have different names for the U.S. and Europe, the cars are essentially the same. That was not the case with the last generation of mid-sized cars. Ford is now selling a global Ford Focus and Fiesta, as well. And the Ford C-Max products, which have been sold in Europe, will be coming to the U.S. next fall.
Kuzak, 59, has been the architect of these programs. A 33-year veteran of Ford, he has distinguished himself by making the company more efficient, and by improving the vehicles on an aesthetic level, primarily by using higher-quality materials. But he also must be credited with a substantial increase in the quality of Ford vehicles, which are now, according to Consumer Reports and J.D. Power and Associates, at virtual parity with Toyota and Honda -- some recent criticisms of telematics interfaces like Ford MyTouch not withstanding. Finally, he is thought to have been instrumental in changing the culture at Ford from one that sought to make its models merely "competitive" to one that aimed to make them "class-leading."
Kuzak was named global product chief by Mullaly shortly after the CEO's arrival in 2006, with strong recommendations from chairman Bill Ford and President of the Americas Mark Fields. Unlike General Motors' Bob Lutz, who has a penchant for the spotlight, Kuzak spent the past five years in the shadows. But the press-shy Kuzak has quietly earned a great deal of respect from the media and his peers for the products that have come out of the company, from the Ford F150 to the Mustang and Fusion.
He is replaced by Nair, 47, who has been with Ford for 24 years and held engineering leadership positions all over the world. Insiders say Nair was tapped by Kuzak to be his successor a couple of years ago, and that Mulally heartily agreed.
On the finance side, Booth, 63, who replaced the previous and quite divisive CFO, Don LeClair, is officially off the list of candidates who could have replaced Mulally as CEO. Booth, a British-born and much-loved and respected figure inside Ford, played a key role in selling off the Premier Automotive Group brands -- Volvo, Jaguar-LandRover and Aston Martin -- as well as in handling the finance department during Ford's return to profitability.
There has been much speculation about who will succeed Mulally, who is 66. Many believe he will step down in the next 24 months, and the candidate most likely to replace him is Mark Fields.
"I looked over the press release very clearly and saw that my name was not among those retiring," Mulally said Thursday with a snicker. "I have no plans to retire."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated Alan Mulally's age as 67. He is 66.