For years, Ford failed to aggressively go after business in that part of the world. All that changed under Mulally, and Hinrichs is the man leading the charge in China, India, and the rest of Asia.
He's overseen Ford's rapid growth in India by working with his team to come up with entry level cars that Indians want to buy.
And with Ford now boosting sales and adding plants in China, Hinrichs is in the sweet spot to make Ford a player in the fastest growing region of the world for auto sales.
An auto consultant who has done business with Ford calls Hinrichs, "A leader Ford's board will eventually have to elevate to higher level. He's a guy they don't want to lose."
I've spent time with all three men and I have to admit, each one is very impressive. I can see the case for Ford elevating any one of them to the CEO suite when Mulally leaves. All three would continue with Mulally's broad strategy of "One Ford."
The wild card in all of this is the Chairman of the company, Bill Ford. He hit a home run with Mulally. When he was searching for who would get the CEO job back in 2006, Ford's gut feeling about Mulally played a huge role in convincing him to bring in an outsider to run the company. I suspect, his gut feeling about which of these three men is best to succeed Mulally will be a critical factor in who the board chooses as the heir to the throne at Ford.
Watch CNBC all day Friday, April 29 for special "Heir To The Throne" reports about CEO succession plans at five companies: Kate Kelly reports about Goldman Sachs on "Squawk On The Street," 10am ET; Jon Fortt reports about Apple on "The Call," 11am ET; Julia Boorstin reports about News Corp. on "Power Lunch," 1pm ET; Phil Lebeau reports about Ford on "Street Signs," 2pm ET; and Mary Thompson reports about AIG on "Closing Bell," 3-5pm ET.
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