updated 9/14/2006 6:19:27 PM ET 2006-09-14T22:19:27

Anne Stevens, an architect of the restructuring effort at Ford Motor Co. and one of the auto industry’s highest ranking women, is retiring, the company announced Thursday.

The announcement that Stevens, 57, will retire came on the eve of the automaker’s planned announcement that it will accelerate job cuts and take other steps in hopes of returning to profitability.

She had been at the center of Ford’s turnaround efforts since October 2005 when she was named executive vice president. She and Mark Fields, Ford’s recently appointed president for the Americas, oversaw development of the company’s Way Forward plan. Ford had seen its sales slump amid competition from fuel-efficient models from Asian automakers, and the plan was designed to cut costs.

When the plan was introduced in January, it called for eliminating up to 30,000 jobs and closing 14 facilities by 2012.

“Anne Stevens’ accomplished career has made Ford Motor Company operations stronger around the world, and she has been a role model in our industry,” Ford Chairman Bill Ford said in a statement.

Stevens joined the company in 1990 as a marketing specialist in the plastic products division. She moved through the international manufacturing ranks and, in 1995, became the company’s first female plant manager in Europe.

She returned to the U.S. in 1999 as a senior leader in manufacturing. When named vice president of North America vehicle operations in 2001, Stevens led Ford’s North American assembly, stamping and tool and die plants.

In 2003, Stevens was named group vice president of Canada, Mexico and South America and, in 2005, was appointed as executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Americas, overseeing Ford’s North and South American product development, manufacturing and purchasing operations.

The Dearborn-based automaker also on Thursday announced the retirement of David Szczupak, a group vice president for the Americas.

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