(USA TODAY) -- Ford Motor says CEO Alan Mulally is retiring July 1 and will be replaced by long-time Ford executive Mark Fields, currently COO.
Fields has been the heir-apparent since Ford created the COO post for him in December 2012. Fields said Thursday he won't name a new COO and plans no executive changes: "The structure's just right now."
Mulally, 68, said that he will retire from the Ford board as well as from his CEO post, and has no immediate plans to work elsewhere. "Retirement sounds a little bit good," he said at a "town hall" meeting of employees at Ford's Dearborn headquarters, where the change was announced.
His Ford stock holdings have been valued at roughly $300 million, so he needn't work if he doesn't want to.
The automaker said the July date "is approximately six months earlier than previously anticipated, following Mulally's recommendation to accelerate the timetable based on the readiness of Ford's leadership team."
Bill Ford, chairman of the car company, said that when he hired Mulally away from Boeing in 2006, the men men talked about "all the great things about the Ford culture and the not-so-great things about the Ford culture, and we talked about changing the latter.
"Here we are eight years later and we did it," Ford said with a wide smile, to enthusiastic applause. "We did it," Mulally agreed moments later.
Mulally's first year at Ford, as automakers began to circle the drain leading to the devastation of the Great Recession, Ford lost $12.6 billion.
It posted another $17.5 billion in red ink the next two years, but in 2009, as rivals continued to struggle, Ford reported a profit of $2.7 billion. It's stayed in the black ever since, skyrocketinjg to $20.2 billion in 2011.
Last year, Ford reported a profit of $7.2 billion.
Mulally is beloved at Ford because of two huge accomplishments that underpin the earnings turnaround:
•He approved a daring plan to mortgage the company, right down to the blue oval logo, in 2006 to raise money before lending dried up -- "Our $23.5 billion small home-improvement loan," Mulally called it.
The cash allowed Ford to continue developing new models while rivals efforts were on hold for lack of money. And it let Ford escape the embarrassing government-scripted Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganizations that General Motors and Chrysler Group endured in 2009.
•He overhauled Ford's vicious, back-biting executive culture and replaced it with a focus on working together.
Fields recalled how, early in Mulally's tenure, executives spent 45 minutes at a meeting with the new boss discussing Mulally's concept of working together. They mapped out organizational tables and direct reports and got deep into the matter. "Alan gets up and he goes up to the white board…He proceeds to write across it, 'Working Together,' and says, 'Can't we just work together?' It was a light-bulb moment where we thought, 'We're making this too hard'."
Bill Ford said other candidates, including outisders were considered: "We always look outside. It's part of what we have to do, scan the world for talent….We quickly came back to the fact we had an incredibly talented group here" to continue running Ford as Mulally has fashioned it.
"Ford Motor Company [NYSE: F] announced today that Alan Mulally has decided to retire from the company July 1 and Mark Fields will be named Ford president and chief executive officer and elected as a member of the company's board of directors.
"'From the first day we discussed Ford's transformation eight years ago, Alan and I agreed that developing the next generation of leaders and ensuring an orderly CEO succession were among our highest priorities','" Executive Chairman Bill Ford said. "Mark has transformed several of our operations around the world into much stronger businesses during his 25 years at Ford. Now, Mark is ready to lead our company into the future as CEO.'
"Mulally, 68, is retiring after nearly eight years leading Ford and capping a remarkable 45-year career. Mulally has led Ford's transformation and strengthened its position as one of the world's leading global automakers. Under Mulally and the company's One Ford plan for profitable growth, Ford has achieved 19 consecutive quarters of profitability, developed the strongest product lineup in Ford's history and embarked upon the company's most ambitious global expansion in the past half century."
Before becoming COO, Fields was in charge of Ford's operations in the Americas and reversed losses, making North America a profit engine.
Mulally was hired personally by the automaker's chairman, Bill Ford, who was impressed with Mulally's efforts at Boeing.
"Mark Fields is well positioned to succeed Mulally after 25 years with the company," said Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book.
"His previous role as the head of Mazda gives him experience in the Asia-Pacific market, a critical region for growth going forward. In recent years Mark Fields ran operations and cut costs at Ford while serving as a key advisor to Alan Mulally in the formation and execution of the One Ford Plan."