Mulally, 68, is one of a handful of candidates still in contention
for the Microsoft role, according to several sources close to the
technology giant, and he has not tried to dispel talk that he is
interested in the job.
That has begun to vex some on Ford's board, two sources told Reuters
this week, and the issue will be discussed when the board meets in
the Detroit area on Thursday.
Mulally is a board member but it is not clear if he will attend the
board meeting. The sources said that directors intended to raise the
issue with him this week or next.
"It's drowning out the rest of the story," said one source close to
Ford's board. "People don't write about Mustang, they don't write
about earnings, they write about Mulally."
That has led to frustration and a desire for clarity, the source
Microsoft declined comment on the progress of its CEO search, and a
Ford spokesman repeated earlier statements that Mulally is slated to
stay as Ford CEO through 2014, although it emerged in September that
the board would be open to him leaving earlier than that.
Mulally, credited with reviving Ford's fortunes since taking the
helm in 2006, has already scaled back his involvement at the
automaker this year, allowing younger executives to take a more
prominent role, several people close to the automaker said.
Even if Mulally does not take the Microsoft job, it is unlikely he
will stay at Ford through the end of next year, the two sources
said. The board has gained confidence in Chief Operating Officer
Mark Fields, a 24-year Ford veteran who is widely expected to be the
"He has done what he needs to at Ford," said one person familiar
with Mulally's thinking.
Mulally, poached from Boeing Co in 2006 to steer the U.S.
automaker's turnaround, is credited with driving a culture change
that saved Ford. That has made him an attractive candidate for
Microsoft as the tech behemoth struggles to make a mark in the
[to top of second column]
But the speculation over whether he will take the Microsoft job has
been a distraction for Ford, the sources said. The automaker is on
the cusp of several key launches next year, including a risky and
radical overhaul of one of its most profitable vehicles, the F-150
On top of that, rival General Motors Co put the topic of auto
industry leadership firmly in the spotlight on Tuesday with the
surprise announcement that long-time insider Mary Barra would become
its next CEO.
Microsoft has said little in public about its search for a new CEO
after Steve Ballmer announced his plan to retire four months ago.
Several vocal investors have championed Mulally as a powerful,
motivating figure who proved at Ford that he can bring cohesion and
direction to a sprawling organization. But he is only one of a
"handful" of candidates for the job, sources close to the matter
said on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman and
Bernie Woodall in Detroit, Nadia Damouni in New York and Bill Rigby
in Seattle; editing by Stephen Coates)
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