By Tom Hals
WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) - If Warren Buffett can run a company in his 80s, why can't Ford's Alan Mulally?
Top executives at Ford Motor Co
"Well, we said 2025," Chairman Bill Ford Jr joked to reporters after the company's annual shareholder meeting in Wilmington, Delaware, on Thursday. "Maybe 2030."
Mulally turns 85 in 2030. If he stays, he would be among a handful of corporate octogenarians like Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc
Analysts, however, expect Mulally to leave within about two years. At the meeting Thursday, Mulally simply said, "We have a robust succession plan for every member of the team."
The prospect of Mulally's exit is one factor that has hurt Ford's stock this year, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said in a research note last week. So far in 2012, Ford shares have been flat, while the S&P 500 <.SPX> has risen about 8 percent.
Mulally took the reins at Ford in 2006, when the company was mired in a financial crisis. But the automaker rallied around the "One Ford" motto, Mulally's strategy to unify Ford's once-disconnected business units to drive down costs and build a global brand.
As a result, he is closely identified with the success of Ford, the only of Detroit's "Big Three" automakers to avoid a U.S. government-led bankruptcy. General Motors Co
Ford has now reached a point in its recovery that centers on boosting the profitability of its best-selling models and grooming a successor for its top executive. That is widely expected to be Mark Fields, who is in charge of Ford's operations in North and South America.
Uncertainty over Mulally's eventual retirement has not affected Ford's top executives, Bill Ford told reporters. "I don't think there's any anxiety on anyone's part on timing," he said.
"There's no new news, and needless to say the board is more than happy with the way Alan has led the company," he added. "It has been really fun for the two of us to work together, and I'd like to see it continue for some time."
(Reporting by Tom Hals; Writing by Deepa Seetharaman; editing by Matthew Lewis)