Ford CEO Bill Ford, great-grandson of founder Henry Ford, has tightened his leadership of the nation's No. 2 automaker with the departure of its president and chief operating officer, Jim Padilla.

The company said Thursday that Padilla was stepping down after four decades at Ford Motor Co. (F) It said Chairman Bill Ford would assume Padilla's duties and would head a new executive committee composed of the automaker's executive vice presidents.

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"I'm grateful for the 40 years of service Jim Padilla has given to Ford," Bill Ford said in a news release. "The legacy of Jim's impassioned leadership will be his tireless pursuit of excellence, his inspired championing of workplace diversity and the mentoring he practiced that paved the way for so many of our senior executives leading Ford today."

Padilla has been in his current position since April 2004. Before that, he was executive vice president of the company and president of the Americas. He has led manufacturing operations for Ford, Mercury and Lincoln in North and South America and at Jaguar.

Among those Padilla mentored were Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, and Anne Stevens, chief operating officer of the Americas. Fields and Stevens are leading the company's North American turnaround plan, which calls for 30,000 job cuts and 14 plant closures by 2012 in a bid to return the automaker's North American division to profitability. The division lost $1.6 billion last year.

"We have the right team for the job at hand and it is time for me to allow them to grow even further and transition into the new roles that await them," Padilla said in the news release. "It is because of these individuals, and the people they lead, that I leave Ford with confidence in the company's future."

Under Ford's new management structure, Fields and Mark Schulz, president of international operations, will begin reporting to Bill Ford. Bill Ford also will lead an operating committee that consists of Fields, Stevens, Schulz, Ford of Europe chief Lewis Booth and Chief Financial Officer Don Leclair.

Padilla joined Dearborn-based Ford in 1966 as a quality control engineer. He accepted the first in a series of management positions in engineering and manufacturing in 1976. He was manufacturing operations manager for two of Ford's most popular vehicles, the Ford Escort and the Ford Taurus.

Known as a hands-on leader with a hard-nosed style, Padilla is largely credited with fixing Jaguar's operations in the early 1990s, restructuring Ford's South American operations in the late 1990s and, more recently, spearheading quality improvements. He also executed the company's 2002 restructuring, which cut 35,000 jobs, or 10 percent of Ford's work force.

Padilla was born in Detroit, one of 11 children of a Mexican-Irish family. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in chemical engineering and a master's in economics from what is now the University of Detroit Mercy.

In 2004, Padilla received the Ohtli medal from Mexican President Vicente Fox. The award recognizes Mexican citizens living outside the country who have worked for the benefit of younger generations of Mexicans. Padilla, whose grandfather immigrated from Mexico, became a naturalized Mexican citizen in 2003.

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