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Ford Motor Co. Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields unveils the 2015 Ford Mustang in Dearborn, Michigan in this December 5, 2013, file photo. The view from inside Ford, and of people close to the company, is that Fields, 52, is widely expected to take over as CEO when current CEO Alan Mulally leaves. (REBECCA COOK/REUTERS)
Ford Motor Co. Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields unveils the 2015 Ford Mustang in Dearborn, Michigan in this December 5, 2013, file photo. The view from inside Ford, and of people close to the company, is that Fields, 52, is widely expected to take over as CEO when current CEO Alan Mulally leaves. (REBECCA COOK/REUTERS)

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Mazda: Ford’s executive proving ground Add to ...

Mark Fields, Ford Motor Co.’s chief operating officer and heir apparent to CEO Alan Mulally, is a Mazda Motor alumnus.

So is Ford’s new head of global design, Moray Callum.

And the head of Ford of Europe, Steve Odell, is also a former Mazda executive officer.

Joe Bakaj, Ford vice-president of global product development, once headed product development at Mazda.

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Former Ford Motor chief financial officer Lewis Booth is retired, but he was once Mazda’s CEO – and has said it was among the best jobs he ever had.

Fields, a former marketing head and CEO of Mazda Motor, credits Mazda with pushing his career forward. More than a few at Mazda credit Fields with championing a turnaround at Mazda in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Odell gained a global perspective at Mazda and directed the launch of the Mazda3 in 2003. Bakaj worked on specialty models like the Mazdaspeed6. Callum’s first chief designer job within the Ford Motor world was as head of Mazda design. The Mazda CX-7 came out of the design house when he was in charge.

In a nutshell, Ford used Mazda as a place for promising executives to gain global experience. Call Mazda Ford’s own executive training ground.

Ford no longer holds shares in Mazda, but in 1996, the company had a 33.3-per-cent stake – giving Ford veto power on the board under Japanese law, and effectively giving Ford control of the company. Ford and Mazda had a long history of partnerships before the bigger American company took control. Ford acquired a 7-per-cent stake in Mazda in 1979 and increased its position in the early 1990s when Mazda ran into financial difficulties.

Under Mulally, Ford divested its Mazda stake starting in 2008. Today, the separation appears to have been good for both companies.

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