Ford Motor
ford mark fields alan mulally bill ford jr
From left to right: Mark Fields, Alan Mulally, Bill Ford

You could hear the champagne corks pop all over Dearborn earlier this month when Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500) executive chairman Bill Ford announced that CEO Alan Mulally would delay his retirement until at least the end of 2014. Since taking over in 2006, Mulally has rescued the Ford family's investment in the company Bill Ford's great-grandfather founded in 1903 -- one that they had considered divesting if Mulally had not been successful in rescuing the floundering automaker.

The Ford family works quietly, but its influence is particularly evident when it comes to selecting -- and sometimes disposing of -- the executives who will run the company. Through its special super-voting shares, it controls 40% of shareholder votes and two seats on the 16-member board of directors. It surprised no one when Mark Fields, a close ally of Bill Ford's, was moved into position as Mulally's heir presumptive.

Ford has been moving aggressively to resize its operations in Europe in line with the shrinking market and to catch up in China, where it got a late start. And Ford, Mulally, and Fields will be keeping a close eye on North America, where the automaker has been losing market share -- and particularly on the fate of the F-150 pickup, which accounts for most, if not all of Ford's N.A. profits.

  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated November 28 2012 06:18 AM ET
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