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(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - Mark Fields will replace Alan Mulally as Ford CEO and president when Mulally retires on July 1.

The company announced the transition today at a press conference at its headquarters in Dearborn attended by hundreds of employees along with Mulally, Fields and Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford.

Ford thanked Mulally for his leadership and for taking the company through a smooth CEO transition. Mulally has been Ford's longest-standing CEO not named Henry Ford, coming in September 2006 from Boeing just as the industry and the American economy were headed for the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

In what for Ford has been an unusually smooth transition of power, Bill Ford was effusive in his praise for Mulally.

"We have had very few, and maybe never, have we had a planned smooth transition," Ford said. "We know Alan is a hall of fame CEO, and we all know that. But most hall of fame CEOs cannot let go."

While the transition has long been expected, the moment marks a historic turning point as Mulally, who was a newcomer to the industry in 2006, will be remembered for leading the company through a massive and painful turnaround. Fields now comes in as a battle tested, well prepared executive who learned much from Mulally.

"From the first day we discussed Ford's transformation eight years ago, Alan and I agreed that developing the next generation of leaders and ensuring an orderly CEO succession were among our highest priorities," Bill Ford said in a statement. "Mark has transformed several of our operations around the world into much stronger businesses during his 25 years at Ford. Now, Mark is ready to lead our company into the future as CEO."

Mulally, 68, got a standing ovation as he took the stage today.

"We did it," he told Ford in reference to the turnaround and the smooth CEO transition.

Mulally boldly chose to borrow $23.5 billion just as the economy was beginning to crash. It proved enough to fuel his turnaround plan without the taxpayer support and bankruptcies that General Motors and Chrysler negotiated in 2009. Mulally sold or shuttered Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Astin Martin and Mercury to focus on Ford and Lincoln.

Originally, Mulally said he planned to stay in the top job through the end of the year.

"The reason that we have moved…this up, from the guidance we gave, is that we are absolutely fully confident that..the team is in place," Mulally said. "It really is a confidence that we have that now is the time to do it."

Fields has long been viewed as Mulally's likely successor. That view was cemented after Fields was promoted at the end of 2012 to the newly created chief operating officer position and assumed responsibility for running day-to-day operations. The promotion silenced those who questioned whether Ford had a concrete succession plan in the works.

Fields, 53, is a New Jersey native with degrees from Rutgers and Harvard. He worked for IBM briefly before joining Ford in 1989. He commutes from Florida where his family resides.

He has run operations in Europe as well as Mazda in Japan. He was president of the Americas during their restructuring and return to profitability.

Fields said he plans to continue to manage Ford through the "One Ford," plan developed and implemented by Mulally as well as what he called a "work together," spirit that Mulally instilled.

Before Mulally became CEO Ford was renowned for a corporate culture filled with competitive executives who often were out for their own gain more than for the betterment of the company.

"Our 'One Ford," plan has served us so well through the years, and it is going to continue to serve us well," Fields said. "Our 'working together culture has been such an integral part of our success. I am committed…to nurturing that."

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