"This is somebody who has been in the trenches, who was there before Mulally and will be there after," said Rebecca Lindland, a Boston-based analyst for consultant IHS Automotive. "He can bridge the two worlds and continue the cultural change."
In Fields' almost seven years leading Ford's largest business unit, he is seen as having matured and grown in stature, she said. Initially, he was chided in the press as a Jersey boy with an '80s hairstyle. He opened a media lunch at the New York auto show late last decade saying, "Aren't you going to ask me about my mullet?"
He also showed flashes of being a street fighter. During a meeting of top executives in 2006, Fields nearly had a physical altercation with then-CFO Don Leclair, who insisted on budget cuts to Fields' "Bold Moves" ad campaign, according to "American Icon," a book by Bryce G. Hoffmann, a reporter for The Detroit News.
"When you run the f--king business, you can do it," Fields responded to Leclair, Hoffman wrote. "But you don't run it. You're the CFO. So, I'll take your counsel, but that's it."
Leclair then shouted, "You're going to do this," Hoffman wrote, adding: Fields leapt out of his chair screaming, "I'm tired of this bulls---!"
Then-CEO Bill Ford prevented the executives from coming to blows by grabbing Fields, according to Hoffman, and shouting, "Cut it out."
Asked later about the anecdote, Fields didn't deny it and said he has always felt "passionate" about the business.
Fields won early praise from Mulally for going against Ford's culture of hiding bad news by becoming the first executive to admit a problem to the new boss. Shortly after arriving from Boeing Co. in September 2006, Mulally instituted a Thursday morning meeting where his top executives are required to report on their initiatives using a green, yellow and red color code to indicate progress, caution and a problem.
Fields was the first to put up a red light because a balky tailgate latch had halted production of the Edge sport-utility vehicle. Mulally, frustrated no one was reporting problems even though Ford was losing $17 billion in its automotive operations that year, began applauding when Fields revealed his red light. "Great visibility, Mark," Mulally recalled saying in a 2010 interview. "Is there anything we can do to help you?"
Fields later said he had trepidations about revealing the problem because in Ford's previous culture "finger pointing would have ruled the day."
"When I showed that first red, there was a lot of tension in the room," Fields said in a 2010 interview. "Then Alan clapped."
By being the first to own up to a problem in the weekly meeting, "he cleared the path for everybody else," said Lindland, the IHS analyst. "People get behind someone who steps up and he stepped up. He became an authentic leader."
Fields will be tasked with continuing the new culture of openness after Mulally leaves. Ford has cited its desire to identify problems early as a reason for the three quick recalls of its redesigned Escape SUV since debuting in May, including one in which owners were instructed not to drive it to the dealership because of the risk of an engine fire.
"It's all about how do we keep our positive relationships with our customers and our dealers and let them know real-time what the state of the situation is," Fields said in 2010. "I always find it annoying when I'm on a plane that's delayed and I never hear from the pilot. I can stomach the delay a lot more when the pilot is giving us frequent updates."
As well as gaining extensive experience in Europe and the Americas, from 2000 to 2002, Fields was CEO of Mazda Motor Corp., in which Ford had a controlling stake at the time. He led a turnaround at Mazda with several Ford executives with whom he later worked closely to revive Ford's North American business. Ford lost $30.1 billion from 2006 through 2008 and earned $29.5 billion in the last three years, mostly in Fields' North American operations.