Five things Ford's new CEO must do

James R. Healey

Ford Motor finally made it official. CEO Alan Mulally will retire July 1 and be succeeded by COO Mark Fields.

Mulally came from Boeing in 2006, and almost miraculously squired Ford through the the dark days without the Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganizations that General Motors and Chrysler Group underwent.

Ford COO Mark Fields at a press conference where it was announced that effective July 1 Fields will succeed Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally as president and chief executive, May 1, 2014 at Ford Headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.
Getty Images

But there's plenty left for his replacement.

Five things CEO Fields must do:

• Find a reliable substitute for Sync, fast. It's the Microsoft setup that underlies Ford's voice-command system, and it stinks. Sync foul-ups keep Ford low on widely consulted third-party quality and reliability surveys.

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• Fix Lincoln or dump it. Start by giving the cars real names. Who can keep straight the MKX from the MKZ from the MKT? Sure it's nice to have a luxury brand, but as Cadillac has shown at GM, it takes many years to establish BMW-style credibility, and it won't be done with re-badged Fords.

Mark Fields takes helm at Ford

• Get busy in China. "We're clearly late," acknowledges Mulally, but sales there are starting to roll and the car company can't afford to stumble in the fast-growing market. Ford will start selling Lincolns there this fall.

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• Stay focused in Europe. The economy's begun to edge back toward health, which will take auto sales with it. Ford might break even in Europe next year. Once Europe isn't a huge earnings anchor, the temptation will be to take off the pressure, to slow down on job cuts and factory closings. From a corporate standpoint, bad idea.

• Keep Mulally's all-for-one philosophy steaming ahead. It'll be easy to slide back into Ford's notorious fiefdoms and infighting without constant pressure from the boss. Those warring fiefdoms are part of the problem that put Ford at the edge of bankruptcy before Mulally took over and smashed the silos.

By James R. Healey of USA Today