Ford Motor promoted veteran executive Joy Falotico to lead the Ford Credit lending unit, making her the first woman to run the operation that provides financing to auto buyers and dealers worldwide.

Falotico, 49, will replace Bernard Silverstone, 60, who is retiring as Ford Motor Credit Co.'s chairman and chief executive officer as of Oct. 1, the company said in a statement Tuesday. The unit, which had pretax profit of $2.1 billion last year, has forecast receivables of as much as $139 billion this year, giving it the size of a major bank.

Falotico's appointment is part of a push for more diversity in Ford's leadership under Chief Executive Officer Mark Fields. She joined Ford Credit in 1989 and has risen through the ranks, including running the unit's North American business and global marketing. Most recently, she was chief operating officer, leading its global business, as well as marketing, sales, business center and insurance operations.

"Mark has dramatically changed the complexion of leadership, demographically with the number of women he has in management," Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a senior associate dean of Yale University's School of Management, said in an interview. "He also has really improved his mix of insiders and outsiders he's brought into the company."

Falotico was also named a group vice president of the automotive parent. Ford declined to make her available for an interview.

Last year, Ford had six women and eight minorities among its 44 corporate officers, the company said in its sustainability report. Globally, 26 percent of Ford's salaried workforce and 18 percent of managers were women, the automaker said. The company's 14-member board includes two women and two members of minority groups.

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