Search through today's Most Popular authors, titles and publishers.
Add as many books as you'd like to your sample shelf.
Each day, you'll receive the next sample on your shelf by email.
Published in Nonfiction/Automotive
eBook Kindle Edition
On the first day of February 1999, times at Ford Motor Company could seemingly have not been better. America was at the peak of the go-go 1990s, and its love affair with bigger, faster, better had translated for the automaker into sports utility vehicle (SUV) sales by the millions, accompanied by extraordinary profits.
The company had introduced the Explorer in 1990 and created a sensation. That first year and every year since, Explorer has been the world's best-selling SUV. The larger Expedition and even larger Excursion followed in subsequent years, scoring with customers as well as stockholders, who admired their profitability. For six consecutive years beginning in 1993, Ford averaged more than $5 billion in annual profits. By 1998, Ford Motor had one-year gross sales in excess of $140 billion. More important, the company sat on a whopping $22 billion in excess cash in 1999. The only question in Dearborn and on Wall Street seemed to be, how could it be used best to make a giant company bigger and stronger?
William Clay "Bill" Ford Jr., the great-grandson of Ford Motor Company founder and industrial revolutionary Henry Ford, was in just the first day of his second month on the job as chairman of the board of the world's second-largest automaker. He was the first member of the Ford family since Henry Ford II retired as chairman in 1979 to hold a senior leadership position at Ford, but he was not widely known inside the company other than by his family name. Bill Ford had risen through company ranks with 15 jobs and had served on its board of directors since 1988, but at 41 years old, with boyish looks and an athletic frame, he was still seen and known by many as the son of longtime influential director William Clay Ford.
Bill Ford Jr. joined the automaker as an entry-level product planner after graduating from Princeton in 1979. He advanced through an array of jobs, moving to another department every 10 to 12 months, in Ford Motor Company tradition, where any manager who stays in the same job for too long may not stay on an executive track. Long a part of Ford's develop-leaders-within culture, the idea was that executives in the making must learn about all areas of the business, from finance to sales and marketing to product development. Bill Ford was doing just that, following a mobility path to executive leadership similar to one once followed by his father.
* * *
A short but trim amateur tennis champion and scratch golfer with a personality becoming of a Southern gentleman, Bill Ford Sr. married the former Martha Firestone (granddaughter of tire magnate Harvey Firestone) in 1947. He was well-known at Ford Motor Company in the 1940s and 1950s as a product design and development guru. So talented was the elder Ford that he was given his own company division to run, Continental. The Continental Mark II luxury car was to be more prestigious than the Cadillac, an exclusive, limited-edition product destined to be a corporate loss leader, but an enhancement beyond the company's grassroots image. An updated version of the graceful, hand-built Lincoln Continental manufactured in 1939 under the leadership of Bill Ford Sr.'s father, Edsel B. Ford, the Continental Mark II was launched in 1955 to rave reviews.
"My dad," says Bill Ford, "is a very talented artist. He clearly inherited his father's eye for design."
The only problem was that Bill Ford Sr.'s brother, Ford Motor chairman Henry Ford II, was preparing to take the company public in 1956 and believed the money-losing Continental division would trouble potential shareholders. A great car by all accounts, the Continental was killed before it ever got started, its remnants folded into the profitable Lincoln division. Bill Ford Sr. soon left the employment of Ford Motor Company, remaining only as a member of the board of directors.
Bill Ford Sr. and Martha Ford lived in Grosse Pointe Shores and had four children-three girls and one boy. William Clay Ford Jr. was born in 1957. They called him Billy, a nickname still used by his mother but dropped by most others in the mid-1990s. Despite his lineage and plush, wealthy home in Detroit's suburbs, Bill Ford was not raised as a crown prince of Ford Motor Company. No longer working for the automaker, his father purchased the Detroit Lions, a storied National Football League franchise, in 1963 and instilled in his son and daughters a passion to compete in whatever they did.
"Everything we did in our house was hypercompetitive," Ford says, "whether it was playing cards, a trivia game ... even our conversations were competitive, like who knew the stats better of some athlete.
"My sisters were a part of it," Ford says, smiling. "The most innocent after-dinner game became cutthroat. There were no gracious winners and no good losers."
A student and athlete first, Bill Ford made straight As in school, spending much of his spare time playing and following sports. He was a youth leagues soccer and hockey hound who on fall Sunday afternoons could be found in the stands at Lions games. Under the spell of football, he watched the championship-starved Lions play amid occasional heckles from nearby fans, directed at the team's owner-his father. "Get us a winner, Ford." "Can't you afford a decent quarterback, Ford?"
Bill Ford's mother did not want him spoiled. She signed him up for youth league play in nearby St. Clair Shores, a blue-collar town, and drove him across town on weekends to play hockey with boys who did not know or care about his wealthy background. He never had bodyguards or chauffeurs, and his mother picked him up from grade school by waiting in line with all the other mothers.
"I think they wanted me to have as normal a childhood as possible," Ford said. "That was important to them. They ultimately wanted me to sink or swim on my own merits."
He learned to fish, hike, and understand and appreciate the outdoors at Fontinalis, a private fishing club the family belonged to in northern Michigan. The family membership dated back to Ford's grandfather, Edsel Ford. Neither of his parents fished, but his mother believed it was important that her son be exposed to the outdoors. She took him there for the first time when he was five or six and it was love at first sight. Ford begged his mother to take him there at any opportunity. He says she "sat on the porch for four days" while he'd "hang out" with camp caretaker Walter Babcock, learning to fly-fish for trout along the Sturgeon River. Ford so loved Fontinalis, and Babcock in particular, that a trip there was all he asked his parents for as a birthday present. He and the caretaker would spend 16 to 17 hours outdoors in a single day.
"[Babcock] had a profound influence on my life," Ford says. "He spent hours with me in the woods. Not only did he teach me how to fish, but ... he would grab edible plants or say, 'See that tree? That's a beech tree," or 'See those marks? Those are slash marks from a bear.'
"I was so fascinated," Ford says, "that he could read things where I would just walk past them. He was so patient with me, he'd spend hours and I would ask him a million questions about everything. Sometimes he could not answer, but he would go home and research or check with a friend and get back with me. He always answered eventually."
To earn money, Ford worked one summer at Henry Ford's Greenfield Village. He was a gardener, punching in and out on a clock for minimum wage along with other workers. One day he was told to fertilize a plant bed, using fertilizer mixed in water colored with blue dye. It was a windy day. A lady in a white dress walked by, getting sprayed with the blue solution by Henry Ford's great-grandson.
"It probably took all the money I earned to pay for that dress," Ford says.
In school and on the playing field, Ford's tenacity helped him gain an edge. He became a fierce competitor, routinely engaging in battle on the ice in hockey as a teen or excelling in the classroom. Following family tradition, he left home as a teenager to attend Hotchkiss School, a prestigious prep boarding high school in Lakeville, Connecticut-the same school from which his father and grandfather had graduated. When Ford did research at Hotchkiss, it was in the Edsel B. Ford Library. If he played tennis, it was on courts that bore the name William Clay Ford Tennis Courts, in honor of his father. But these were only minor distractions for Bill Ford. He captained the football team, starred on the hockey team, and continued to make good grades. And when he called home, Ford was far more likely to check on the progress of his beloved Lions football team than to inquire about the automobile business.
"I was never terribly aware of [Ford Motor Company] when I was young," Ford says. "I was concerned with how my friends were doing, how the team I was on at the moment was doing.... That's just the nature of a kid, and I was not any different."
At Princeton University, Ford majored in history and studied great leaders like Abraham Lincoln, fueling a passion for Civil War history that continues today. Around campus, he traveled in his high school graduation present, a metallic green Ford Mustang. It was the first car that was officially his, as his parents only let him use an extra family car-often a Ford station wagon-the first three years he had a driver's license. The Mustang had a special, one-of-a-kind paint job picked out from the studio by his father.
"It was so metallic," Ford says, "it swam in the sun, which was great, except that it was a show color never meant for extreme use. I took it one day up to northern Michigan in the middle of winter and the temperature dropped below zero. I woke up the next morning and the paint was literally standing up in strips. It had torn off the car."
Ford played rugby and sported a bumper sticker on his green Mustang: "In rugby there are no winners, only survivors." He was exposed to and intrigued by Eastern mysticism, studying philosophy and beginning to ask himself questions about social responsibility. In his senior year at Princeton, Ford was elected president of Ivy, the oldest and most prestigious club on campus. When a female classmate tried to diversify the all-male club amid threats and complaints, it was Ford who extended friendship and the invitation of an interview to join. Her entry was denied by the club membership as a whole, but the student never forgot the classmate willing to give her a chance.
During his senior year, Ford met his future wife, freshman Lisa Vanderzee, who was also from Grosse Pointe, though they had not previously known each other. A friend introduced them.
"She had three great-looking roommates," Ford says. "Because I knew Lisa, I had an in. My friends were jealous."
Ford's senior thesis at Princeton, "Henry Ford and Labor: A Reappraisal," was a work he produced in six days. While he blushingly passes it off as something less than his best effort, the fact that he turned to family and Ford Motor Company history as his college career came to a close showed the young Ford was becoming more aware of and interested in his roots. Upon graduation, he announced that he wanted to work at Ford Motor Company, in the family tradition. His father was pleased, though he had never pushed his son into the automotive business.
"The only advice my dad ever gave me," Ford says, "was when it came time for me to graduate [from college]. He said, whatever you decide to do, give it one hundred percent. If it is Ford, fine, but make sure you do what you really want to do and then give it all you've got."
* * *
When Bill Ford joined Ford Motor Company in 1979, he took extra steps to try to blend in as just another employee. During his first days on the job, he tried to work incognito under the name William Clay, not wanting to draw attention and advantage with his name and heritage. Once fellow workers figured out his identity, Ford worked hard to overcome any notions that he was a privileged employee, but it was not easy.
"Many superiors," he says, "were either afraid to give me meaningful direction and feedback or bitter and harsh. I was self-conscious for a lot of years, frankly, because I never wanted anyone to say I was not pulling my weight. I thought it was important to change coffee filters and stand over the copy machine making copies."
Ford's father worked diligently from all angles to make sure Ford learned the business properly. Bill Ford Sr. got his 25-year-old son on the company's labor negotiations team in 1982 during a year of crucial UAW talks. When Ford took a job in commercial truck engineering years later, he thought it wise to learn the intricacies of driving an 18-wheeler. He took classes to obtain a commercial truck license, driving an 18-wheeler with a full load on a round-trip from Detroit to Toledo as a final exam. The hardest part, he says, was maneuvering the truck backwards through a busy McDonald's parking lot.
Ford's first opportunity to lead an operating unit came when he was named managing director of Ford of Switzerland in 1987. The division was small but troubled. The assignment was clearly a test of the young Ford by then-chairman and CEO Donald Petersen. The automaker had been entrenched in Europe for decades, and assignments there were typical for company rising stars. If you earned results in Europe, you found promotion in North America. Ford was married with one child (Eleanor Clay, born in 1985) at the time and was understandably homesick on occasion, calling to his parents in the United States on fall Sunday afternoons for Lions game updates, even asking his mother to put the telephone receiver close to the television set so he could hear game action. Still, he turned Ford of Europe's Swiss operations around in a short time, restoring profitability and earning the respect of dealers in that country, who still talk today about his hands-on leadership.
When Henry Ford II died in September 1987, Bill Ford Sr.
believed it was time to directly involve the family's fourth
generation in the leadership of Ford Motor Company. He
wanted his son and his nephew, Edsel B. Ford II (Henry Ford
II's son), to have seats on the company's board of directors so
they could learn while he was still an active member. At the
time, Bill Ford Sr. was the only Ford family member serving
on the board. Bill Ford Jr. and his cousin Edsel Ford were just
young employees of the company, but they were representative
of future Ford family involvement. Donald Petersen was
chairman and CEO of the company, and the automaker was
in the midst of record performance, due in large part to the
success of the Taurus, launched in 1985.
Thanks for reading! Join BookDaily now and receive featured titles to sample for free by email.
Reading a book excerpt is the best way to evaluate it before you spend your time or money.
Just enter your email address and password below to get started:
Instant Bonus: Get immediate access to a daily updated listing of free ebooks from Amazon when you confirm your account!