LOS ANGELES/DETROIT – Ford Motor Co has spent the last six years developing a global product strategy under Chief Executive Alan Mulally. Building on this plan is Mark Fields' top priority when he starts running the automaker's global operations next month.
"The priorities are almost exactly identical to the priorities we've been working on," Fields told reporters during a roundtable during the Los Angeles Auto Show. "First off is delivering the One Ford. It's a timeless plan."
Fields' public comments on Wednesday were his first since the second-largest U.S. automaker announced his promotion effective December 1 to chief operating officer.
Under his "One Ford" plan, Mulally has pushed the automaker to build a lineup of global vehicles that can be sold around the world with just a few tweaks.
Fields will be Ford's first COO since 2006. The 23-year Ford veteran, often described as tenacious, is viewed as the front runner to succeed Mulally, who will stay on as CEO for at least two more years, Ford has said.
For the last seven years, Fields has led Ford's largest business unit, North America, where Ford reported record profit margins for the third quarter.
On Wednesday, Fields said he will oversee Ford's day-to-day global operations in his new role, while Mulally will shape the automaker's long-term execution of his "One Ford" global product strategy as well as mentor top executives.
"We're so glad that Alan is going to be staying around and he's going to be leading the long-term development of the One Ford plan," Fields told reporters at a second event Wednesday.
Fields's second priority as COO will be to expand Ford's presence around the world and take better advantage of Ford's scale.
In South America, for example, Ford's lineup will be almost 100 percent global models by 2014. It was almost entirely regional last year.
Ford estimates that its "One Ford" global product strategy helped overall product development became two-thirds more efficient from 2006 to 2012.
"We are just starting to see the full potential of the global scale and the operating margin benefits through the One Ford plan," Fields told reporters. "We are really still at the beginning stages of operating truly as a global company."
As COO, Fields will lead the weekly business review meetings that have been among the most visible signs of cultural change at Ford since Mulally was hired in 2006.
Mulally is credited with turning around Ford while avoiding the government bailouts needed to save its crosstown rivals General Motors Co and Chrysler Group LLC in 2009. Under him, Ford has also become a more open and collaborative place, a change from its previous culture of "empire building and back-biting," Executive Chairman Bill Ford said earlier this month.
Both Mulally and Bill Ford added that Fields played a key role in ushering in this new internal culture. Fields said Wednesday that preserving Ford's newfound culture is essential.
"You don't change a culture in just a couple of years," Fields said. "We are really dedicated to making sure that we root that in the organization and that's living it every day."
(Reporting By Nichola Groom in Los Angeles and Deepa Seetharaman in Detroit)