DETROIT -- In his first year as CEO, Mark Fields has elevated Ford Motor Co.'s commitment to Lincoln, ensured successful launches of important vehicles and stressed the need to think long term in a rapidly changing industry.
But Fields' most impressive accomplishment to date might just be that he replaced one of the most revered executives in automotive history, Alan Mulally, while generating barely a ripple among investors, dealers and employees.
"It happened in such a smooth way, without the history of palace revolts that Ford used to have," said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean of the Yale University School of Management and founder of the Chief Executive Leadership Institute.
It's at this point, as the July 1 anniversary of the transition approaches, that Fields begins to face bigger challenges. Analysts are looking for Fields to make good on the "breakthrough year" he has promised, and Ford's performance will become more attributable to Fields' leadership than the plans Mulally had put in motion.
"I'm expecting Ford to have a really nice second half of the year, and it's up to Mark, not Alan, to deliver on that," said David Whiston, an analyst with Morningstar. "So far, there haven't been any problems, but the execution of everything going forward you have to put on Mark."
Fields has deviated little from the path Mulally forged with his One Ford plan. Fields has said he'll keep One Ford intact but accelerate it now that the basic foundation is cemented. First, though, he tempered soaring expectations for the company by inviting analysts to Dearborn, Mich., last fall to warn of near-term challenges that would cut into profits. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas called it a "brave move to help set a more realistic bar."
"It made sense for people to be nervous," said Brian Godfrey, chair-man of the Ford National Dealer Council and president of Pat Milliken Ford in Redford Township, Mich. "When you look at what Alan did, it was to change the culture and discipline. And I don't see that we've gone backward in either of those places."
Fields' mantra has been "innovation," the subject of nearly every public appearance as CEO. That has manifested in a variety of ways, including a Silicon Valley research lab opened over the winter; a series of Ford-sponsored experiments on topics such as car sharing and sensors that tell other vehicles about available parking spots; and the EcoBoost-powered, carbon-fiber GT supercar coming to market next year.
"Mark was the author, basically, with Alan, of the One Ford plan, so in the way we operate and leverage the One Ford plan, there's been basically no change," said David Schoch, president of Ford's Asia Pacific region.
"Where Mark is really helping to drive the business is in innovation and mobility," Schoch said. "Mark recognizes that there's a lot of other players out there today that are trying to get into our space that traditionally were never there -- the Googles, the Microsofts, the Baidus, the Alibabas. Mark has really raised the level of awareness on mobility and this innovation mindset and where we have to go."