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Like It or Not, the Post-Alan Mulally Watch has Begun for the Ford CEO

Tuesday, 6 Dec 2011 | 4:19 PM ET
Alan Mullaly
Getty Images
Alan Mullaly

As reports surface, and then Ford denies, that it's searching for the person who will ultimately replace CEO Alan Mulally, one thing is clear: This story will now overshadow everything else Ford is trying to do.

The latest denial from Ford involves a new report from the Wall Street Journalthat says Ford may add the position of Chief Operating Officer.

Essentially, this person would be the CEO in waiting and smooth the CEO transition. Ford is denying there is a CEO or COO search underway. A spokesperson for the company says, "We are not about to name a COO, nor do we speculate about future personnel decisions."

The four candidates who have been reported as possible candidates to replace Mulally are:

  • Mark Fields: The President of Ford of the Americas
  • Joe Hinrichs: Chairman & CEO of Ford China
  • Jon Krafcik: CEO Hyundai Motor America
  • Phil Martens: President and CEO of Novellus

Both Krafcik and Martens worked for Ford before leaving the automaker for other positions.

Now Ford finds itself facing constant questions about how long Mulally will stay as CEO; when the company will name a successor, will Ford continue growing the top and bottom line under a new CEO, etc. You get the picture. For as much as Ford hopes to squelch talk about Mulally leaving, multiple reports of a CEO search now hang over Ford.

Compared to where these guys were five years ago (losing billions of dollars and market share) the distraction of questions about Alan Mulally are a breeze. Mulally will smile, laugh and say, "Really, the focus should be on the hard work of the people at Ford and the great cars we're building."

He's right, that should be the focus, but it won't be.

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___________________________ Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.comand Follow me on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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