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Mulally Can Drive Ford Past 65

DETROIT TheStreet) --

Perhaps the biggest question raised at the Ford (F - Get Report) annual meeting Thursday involves the future of CEO Alan Mulally, who will turn 65 on Aug. 4.

Responding to a shareholder, Chairman Bill Ford said the company's retirement policy is flexible. "Alan has been completely superb for this company," he said. "We'd like him to stay as long as he wants."

Ford
Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally, left, and Chairman Bill Ford, right, laugh during a news conference after Ford's annual shareholders meeting, Thursday, May 13, 2010, in Wilmington, Del

Earlier, as he introduced Mulally, Ford thanked Mulally for his work and noted: "The best part is that he's just getting started," perhaps an indication that succession questions can be put aside for a while. Mulally retains a healthy appearance and, from all indications, seems happy as an industrial icon.

"Sixty-five is not as old as it used to be," said Standard & Poor's analyst Efraim Levy. "Alan has a lot more mileage left.

"I don't expect him to leave imminently," Levy said. "At some point they should appoint a successor-designate. But a lot of the changes he made in the way the company operates should outlast him. There was a change to the culture and a change to the processes. Ford's on the right track and it will have to stay on that track."

Since arriving in Detroit in 2006, Mulally has become the symbol of Ford's resurgence, credited with a change in course that Bill Ford described Thursday as "one of the greatest financial turnarounds in our 106-year history."

By now, the story is well known. Mulally mortgaged everything, borrowing $24 billion, in a move that was questioned until, three years later, Ford was the only one of the Detroit Three to avoid bankruptcy, which -- along with a new product line -- enabled it to gain widespread consumer support.

After losing $14.8 billion in 2008, the automaker made $2.7 billion in 2009 and $2 billion in the first quarter of 2010. It now says it will be profitable in the current year as well as 2011. Market share has improved from 15.5% in 2007 to 16.8% so far in 2010, the highest level since 17.3% in 2006, according to Edmunds.com

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