Top Ford execs Booth, Kuzak set to retire by April 1

DETROIT – Two top Ford Motor Co. executives who helped steer the U.S. automaker through the financial crisis will retire by April 1, thinning the ranks of potential candidates who could replace Chief Executive Alan Mulally in coming years.

Chief Financial Officer Lewis Booth, 63, will be replaced by the company Vice President and Controller Bob Shanks, 59. Derrick Kuzak, 60, Ford’s product development chief, will be succeeded by Raj Nair, 47, now the head of engineering for global product development.

Ford’s board of directors met Wednesday and approved the plans. Separately, Ford announced that former U.S. Ambassador to China and one-time Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman will join the board.

The moves put the focus on Mark Fields, 51, who runs Ford’s operations in North and South America, and Joe Hinrichs, 45, who runs the automaker’s operations in Asia, as the leading internal candidates to succeed Mulally.

“Lewis and Derrick are two exceptional, experienced leaders and we’re so pleased to see them at this point be able to retire following tremendous careers at Ford,” Mulally told reporters. “They have created such a sound foundation for us to continue to profitably grow.”

During a call with reporters, Mulally sidestepped questions on the future CEO, saying that he had no plans to retire and Ford had “a very strong succession plan for every position, including my own.”

Gary Bradshaw, portfolio manager at Hodges Capital Management in Dallas, which owns Ford shares, said he’s confident Ford has its CEO succession plan in order.

“They’ve got a good, deep bench there in my opinion. I think it is seamless. Nothing really will change,” Bradshaw said.

Both Booth and Kuzak have been with Ford for more than 30 years and rose to their positions after Mulally became Ford’s chief executive in the fall of 2006.