Ford Motor may have groomed COO Mark Fields to become its new chief executive come this summer, but the automaker kept its options open years before making the choice, CEO Alan Mulally told CNBC on Thursday.
During an interview on "Squawk on the Street," Mulally said he and the company's executive chairman, Bill Ford, began working on a transition plan eight years ago, when Mulally took the reins. They looked at candidates inside and outside the company, Mulally told CNBC.
"From day one we made that a very high priority ... and we continue to look at all the candidates outside the United States and around the world, because clearly this is a very important company," Mulally said. "At the same time we increased our emphasize on the leadership development inside Ford. ... [Mark] has been the front-runner so to speak, or the preferred candidate."
MulalIy spoke to CNBC after Ford announced that Fields would succeed him. It was a rare example of a major automaker making a smooth transition from one CEO to another.
Fields, 53, will become CEO after service in a number of positions at Ford over the last 25 years.
The automaker has made it clear for more than a year that Fields would eventually replace Mulally. Now that he's officially behind the wheel, he faces daunting odds.
"We have the right guy at the right time to take Ford forward," Mulally told CNBC.