By Jeff Gilbert, CBS Detroit

DETROIT (WWJ) –The man considered likely to be the next CEO at Ford is dismissing new reports that current CEO Alan Mulally may be leaving earlier than expected.

“There’s been no change to what we announced in November,” said Ford Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields, referring to the announcement that Mulally would remain CEO at least until the end of 2014.

There’s been persistent speculation that Mulally is being wooed to replace retiring Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

The Wall Street Journal’s “All Things D” technology site is reporting that discussions between Microsoft and Mulally have become more serious in recent weeks. But, the report said there have been no formal contract negotiations.

Mulally, according to the publication, turned down Microsoft at first, but has recently “become more amenable to the idea.”

Mulally, who worked at Boeing before coming to Ford, still has a home in the Seattle area.

In an interview with Bloomberg News earlier this month, Mulally said he had no plans to leave Ford early.

COO Mark Fields, speaking to reporters after kicking off the annual United Way Torch Drive, brushed off suggestions that he may be preparing to move up to the top job at Ford.

“I’m absolutely focused on my Chief Operating Officers job, essentially leading the day-to-day operations, and working with the team to drive operational excellence. That is my sole focus.”

Fields said Mulally remains very involved.

“He’s absolutely focused on the business particularly on setting long-range strategy for the company,” said Fields. “He’s very engaged. In fact, the whole team is engaged.”

The speculation surrounding Mulally’s possible departure has not been a distraction, said Fields.

“Collectively, we have all helped change the culture. It’s not just relegated to one individual.”

Fields is also the chairman of the United Way of Southeast Michigan’s annual torch drive. At the early morning torch lighting, he said this year’s goal is to raise 40 million dollars, a 14 percent increase from last year.

While Ford doesn’t have any operations in the city of Detroit, Fields said it’s important for the company and it’s workers to give back to the community.

“This is our home. It’s important that Detroit, Greater Detroit and the state of Michigan be strong and grow. That’s why for us, this is a natural.”

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