Alan Mulally, the man who has led Ford Motor Co.'s turnaround from near financial ruin, would not say Thursday if he has talked to Microsoft about the CEO job at the software giant.
"We don't comment on the speculation," Mulally said in response to a question from The Associated Press on the company's third-quarter earnings conference call.
Mulally, 68, repeated that there's no change in Ford's plan for him to stay as CEO through the end of 2014. He has held the top post since 2006, when he was hired from aviation giant Boeing to rescue the company. Ford is set to report its fifth-straight profitable year under Mulally.
Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp. is reportedly considering Mulally as a replacement for CEO Steve Ballmer, who intends to step down in less than a year.
One management expert said the Ford CEO's no-comment indicates that he has some interest in the Microsoft job.
"His non-denial denial means that he's either talking to them or that he wishes he were talking to them," said Yale University management and law professor Jonathan Macey, who has written a book on corporate governance.
Mulally said Thursday that nothing has changed since last November, when Ford announced that he would stay through 2014 and that veteran executive Mark Fields would take over day-to-day business as chief operating officer. Fields ran the company's Americas operations for seven years, turning them into a profit machine. His appointment as COO is a strong indication that the board favors him to replace Mulally.
Mulally hasn't denied reports that Microsoft is courting him. His name surfaced shortly after Ballmer said in August that he would retire. The two are friends, and Mulally still has a home in the Seattle area. Ballmer even spoke with Mulally over coffee about a wide-ranging reorganization that Microsoft announced in July.
Earlier this week Oracle President Mark Hurd said he's not planning to become the next Microsoft CEO.
Mulally's statements drew little reaction from investors, who focused on Ford's financial results. The No. 2 U.S. automaker reported a $1.3 billion third-quarter net profit. Ford shares rose 26 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $17.78 in midday trading.
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