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Mulally Sets the Stage for His Final Act at Ford

Alan Mulally, president and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Co., speaks during the unveiling of the Ford Fusion in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012.
Peter Foley | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Alan Mulally, president and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Co., speaks during the unveiling of the Ford Fusion in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012.

Why is Alan Mulally publicly proclaiming he will stay at Ford through at least 2014 when he has never set a deadline in the past?

Why is he moving one of his top lieutenants into the role of COO, when he has said for years that Ford doesn't need a COO?

Why is Ford's CEO shuffling his leadership team around given how well it has performed in recent years?

The Answer: setting the stage for Ford to have a smooth transition to Mulally's successor.

Ford has never had a strong track record when it comes to transitioning from one CEO to the next. That's largely because the company has a history of fiefdoms and not clearly mapping out who is next in line. When Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr. announced the latest management shuffle he said, "Nobody wants Ford to go back to the days of empire building and backbiting." So Alan Mulally has set the stage for his final act as Ford CEO.

(Read More: Ford's Mulally to Remain CEO 'At Least' Another Year)

The Big Three Get Bigger Jobs

For most of the last year it has been clear Alan Mulally has thought three of his top executives would be the best candidates to someday replace him as CEO. Now each of those men have a new job and new opportunity to show why they should succeed Mulally.

Mark Fields: Chief Operating Officer

Fields, 51, remains the odds on favorite to eventually replace Mulally. In his new job he will run Ford's weekly Business Plan Review meetings and set the strategic vision for Ford. In other words, he'll effectively be running Ford. If all goes well and Fields can replicate his success running the automakers operations in North and South America, he will eventually get the CEO title.

Joe Hinrichs: Ford President of the Americas

Hinrichs, 45, is taking Fields' old job after spending the last three years running Ford of Asia. Hinrichs won high praise overseeing Ford's rapid expansion in China and the surging business in southeast Asia. Can he keep Ford sales and profits humming in the Americas? Working out of the Ford HQ in Dearborn, Hinrichs will be on a bigger stage with a huge opportunity.

Jim Farley: Executive VP of Global Marketing, Sales and Service, and Lincoln

Farley takes control Lincoln and a job that could be a game changer. Lincoln has long been a forgotten asset at Ford. Sales have steadily dropped and the brand is not even on the radar when it comes to luxury auto sales. If Farley can revive Lincoln and truly make it a play in the luxury market, he gives Ford a viable second brand to build around not only in the U.S., but around the world as well.

Mulally's Agenda: Finishing the Job

For as long as I've known Alan, he has always talked about finishing the job. Even in his first days at Ford he talked about wanting a deep bench of leaders who could eventually replace him as CEO. Now, Mulally is trying to do what few CEO's ever do successfully: have a smooth transition to the next CEO. It's the part of the job many CEO's talk about but rarely devote much time to overseeing. So why is Mulally so concerned Ford have a smooth transfer of power?

It would be his crowning achievement. His chance to put a bow on the job he has done at Ford. Plus, over the next two years, he can make sure some of the big initiatives he started at Ford are completed. That includes fixing Europe. It will take a couple of years to see if the company's recently announced restructuring of Europe actually succeeds.

At 66, Mulally is not ready to ride off into the sunset, but he is ready for his final act at Ford.

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