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Ford Motor Co. directors are preparing to promote Mark Fields to chief operating officer from president of the Americas, a move that anoints him as probable successor to Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally, according to a person familiar with the plan.
Ford's board may vote this month or next to elevate Fields, 51, a 23-year veteran of the automaker who helped lead a transformation of its North American operations from record losses four years ago to record profits this year, said the person, who asked not to be identified disclosing private plans. This month's board meeting is scheduled to start today.
The promotion puts Fields in line to replace Mulally, 67, acclaimed for saving the second-largest U.S. automaker without a federal bailout or bankruptcy. Fields will relinquish his role overseeing operations in North and South America, which he has done since 2005, the person said. His successor in that role is unclear, the person said.
Asked this week if he would like to be Ford's next CEO, Fields dodged the question and told a group of reporters, "Thank you all for coming," at an event at a factory in Flat Rock, Mich.
Asked a similar question in January in Detroit, Fields responded: "I am very focused on the job that I'm doing now. My ambition is to contribute as profitably as I can to the profitable growth of Ford, and that means doing my job."
Since then, Ford's North American operations have delivered record profits while the automaker has lost money overseas. The company earned $4.14 billion in North America in 2012's first half and had an operating profit margin of 10.8 percent in an industry where a 5 percent margin is considered respectable.
Ford declined to comment.
"We do not comment on speculation about personnel actions," Ray Day, a spokesman, said in an email. "Regarding succession, Ford Motor Co. takes succession planning very seriously, and we have succession plans in place for each of our key leadership positions."
Fields has long been the front-runner to replace Mulally, who is expected to retire at the end of 2013, the person said.
"This is somebody who has been in the trenches, who was there before Mulally and will be there after," Rebecca Lindland, a Boston-based analyst for consultant IHS Automotive, said. "He can bridge the two worlds and continue the cultural change."