Transparency and focus characterize Ford leadership transition

Ford's head of global communications Ray Day explains the PR strategy behind the announcement of the automaker's change in CEO from Alan Mulally to Mark Fields

Outgoing Ford CEO Alan Mulally
Outgoing Ford CEO Alan Mulally

DEARBORN, MI - Ford’s global communications lead Ray Day has emphasized the importance of engaging all stakeholders and not being derailed by speculation in ensuring a smooth CEO transition.

The Dearborn-HQ’ed automaker announced yesterday that CEO Alan Mulally is leaving the company at the end of June after seven years in post, to be replaced by current COO Mark Fields. The 68-year-old Mulally hasn’t announced what he plans to do next, and says his priority is ensuring a smooth transition over the next two months.

Day, group VP of communications at Ford Motor Company, told PRWeek: "It was important for us that it was seen as part of an orderly, smooth succession plan at Ford – it was our role to communicate that to all stakeholders. Our analysis of the messaging around yesterday’s announcement shows that the overriding theme was one of ‘smooth transition at Ford.’"

The press conference to announce the leadership change was broadcast live across the globe from Dearborn over the Web and not just confined to journalists. Mark Truby, VP of communications and public affairs at Ford of Europe, said: "It was noticeable that this was not just a meeting with the press - it was for all stakeholders. There were employees in the room and watching live via webcast.

"It was a totally transparent process that everyone could see in real time – there were not different messages for different audiences."

Ford’s board approved the transition from Mulally to Fields on Wednesday, with the announcement coming earlier than the initial plan of transitioning at year-end. Fields inherits a company in a much healthier position than it was in 2006, when Mulally moved into the Ford CEO role from Boeing.

The F-150 large pick-up truck was launched successfully at the Detroit auto show in January and a redesigned version will be debuted this autumn among a record 23 new vehicles being introduced to the market in 2014.

"One of the advantages of doing communications at Ford is that we have a seat at the table," said Day. "We are part of the development of the succession plan at all levels, along with our business and HR partners. We’re in the loop and constantly working on the process."

Last year it was rumored that Mulally was in the running to return to the Pacific Northwest - where Boeing is based - and take over as CEO of Microsoft, but Day said the comms team refused to let this derail a carefully planned transition.

"It is our policy to not engage in speculation; there were all sorts of stories going around, but we just don’t engage," he added. "We keep our stakeholders focused on the plan and don’t get derailed by speculation."

Day also noted that the nature of the transition made it easier for him and the communications team to retain continuity.

"The head of communications has a very special and close relationship with the CEO in any organization," he said. "But they should also have a close relationship with all business leaders and not focus solely on one leader. When you do that, it becomes seamless and enables a smooth transition."

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