The transition of leadership at Ford in July — from Alan Mulally to Mark Fields — marks an uncommon event among large corporations: the planned, transparent and smooth succession of the top leader of the organization.
Unlike at GM a few years ago, at Apple , Microsoft or any number of other companies, the upcoming change marks a process so well defined and understood by the organization, the public and the markets, that it is seen across the board as a positive move.
The one concern that some pundits have is whether or not Mark Fields can fill the shoes of Alan Mulally, a well-recognized turn-around artist that took Ford from near bankruptcy to multi-billion dollar profits in 8 years.
In my opinion, not only can Fields not fill Mulally’s shoes, he would be well advised not to try.
Fields’ task is to bring a new direction to a stabilized, but still challenged, organization. (Ford appears to be on more solid footing than recall-riddled GM.) Fields brings different strengths than Mulally. With over 25 years at Ford, Fields has the experience and know-how to lead Ford through some aggressive challenges. He has filled high-level positions in the U.S., South America and, most importantly, Asia — which positions him as an insider with a strong world view.
Fields has also made his vision clear, most recently at the 2014 Ford Trends Conference, that Ford must be a leader in automotive consumer technology. The future Ford is as a “personal mobility” company, Fields has said.
It’s easy to talk about how dealing with issues like these is almost a luxury compared to what Mulally faced in 2006. But that’s the point of planned and thoughtful succession. The leadership needs of Ford today are vastly different than those of 2006.
Fields has nothing to prove in relation to his mentor and prior boss. If he has any luxury, it is the ability to honor his predecessor — who kept the company alive — while Fields attempts to engineer a new vision.
I’m excited to watch Fields in the next few months as he takes on this task.
I first published this article 6/30/14 on TheStreet.com. It is reprinted here with permission.