Fields, 53, emerged as Mulally’s likely successor when he was promoted to chief operating officer in December 2012. The 25-year veteran of Ford was tapped to become Ford’s No. 2 executive after leading the automaker’s North American operations from deep losses to record profits.
“Thank you for leaving us this gift of a transformed Ford that we can all build on going forward,” Fields said to Mulally during a press conference today.
"I'm so blessed to be surrounded by a talented management team," he added.
Fields said his COO position won't be filled.
The transition will bring an end to a storied chapter in Ford’s history.
Shortly after Mulally arrived from Boeing Co. in September 2006, he carried out a plan to borrow $23 billion to see the company through the rough times ahead. The loan allowed Ford to avoid the bailouts and bankruptcies that befell the predecessors of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group.
Ford has earned $42.3 billion in the last five years after losing $30.1 billion from 2006 through 2008. Last year, rising sales of Escape SUVs, F-Series pickups and Fusion sedans helped drive Ford’s pretax earnings in North America to a record $8.78 billion.
Ford’s first-quarter net income this year fell 39 percent, marking its weakest quarter since 2010.
Mulally, 68, who had repeatedly said he would stay at Ford through the end of the year, decided to accelerate his departure because of the “readiness of Ford’s leadership team,” according to the statement.
“We are absolutely fully confident that the team is ready,” Mulally said during a press conference. “This is really a good time to do it.”
Mulally has been lining up a substantial corporate position for his next act, probably as a board director or chairman, people with knowledge of his plans have said.
Mulally wants to remain a player in the corporate world, giving voice to the importance of manufacturing and innovation in America, the people said. Over 45 years at Boeing and Ford, he became a specialist on management and doing business in Asia, advising President Barack Obama on international trade.
Fields’ greatest challenge is following Mulally.
After Mulally considered becoming Microsoft Corp.’s CEO last year, investors became eager for Ford to make the transition, Michael Levine, a fund manager at Oppenheimer Funds Inc. in New York, said last month. Mulally pulled out of the Microsoft race in January and said he would stay at Ford through the end of 2014.
Fields, who will be president as well as CEO, has engineered a few turnarounds of his own in his 25 years at Ford. At age 39 in 2000, Fields became 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, which earned record pretax profit last year.
Bloomberg contributed to this report.