The directors are close to promoting Mark Fields to chief operating officer, Bloomberg reported Tuesday, citing an unnamed source. The promotion would make Fields the probable successor to 67-year-old CEO Alan Mulally. The report also said that Mulally is expected to step down at the end of 2013.
Ford said the report was speculative and wouldn't confirm it. But the company said it takes succession seriously and has a plan in place for each of its leadership positions.
At least one board member contacted by The Associated Press referred all questions to Ford.
Mulally is one of the most respected CEOs in corporate America. He is revered at Ford for turning around the company after being hired in 2006. Soon after, he made the critical decision to take out a $23 billion loan. He used the money to cut workers and brands and speed up product development. He has now presided over 13 consecutive quarterly profits.
Mulally has never said publicly when he will retire, but Ford is under pressure to prove it can keep its turnaround on track after he leaves. Naming Fields or another successor while Mulally is still in charge would ensure an orderly transition.
Fields, 51, has long been considered a front-runner for the top job. The 23-year veteran of the company developed the restructuring plan that Mulally used as his blueprint when he came to Ford. As president of the Americas, a job he has held since 2005, Fields has led Ford's North American operations to near-record profits.
Fields also has significant international experience. He was the president and CEO of Mazda Motor Co. from 2000 to 2002, and led Ford's European operations before taking his current job.
Another frequently mentioned contender is Joe Hinrichs, 45, who is currently presiding over a major Asian expansion as head of Ford's Asia Pacific and African operations.