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William Clay Ford1,2

b. 14 March 1925

Family Martha Parks Firestone b. 16 September 1925
Marriage* 21 June 1947  Principal=Martha Parks Firestone2,1,4 
Children  1. Martha Ford b. a 1947
  2. Sheila Ford b. a 1947
  3. Elizabeth Ford b. a 1947
  4. William Clay Ford Jr. b. 3 May 1957
  5. Linda Ford b. 1959, d. 1959

William Clay Ford, Sr.

William Clay Ford (born March 14, 1925) is the youngest of the four grandchildren of Henry Ford and child of Edsel Ford.

He initially pursued a career with the Ford Motor Company and for awhile was the head of the Continental Division. A reorganization eliminated the division, and for some time he was less active in company management, although he was at least in title responsible for oversight of company design activities.

He purchased the Detroit Lions in 1964 for $4.5 million, and for some years this was his primary professional interest, but as his older brother Henry Ford II aged he became increasingly important as a Ford Motor Company director, representing the long term interests of the family investment (and by proxy, that of all shareholders). He was Chairman of the Finance Committee (an important board position traditionally held by a trusted non-executive director) for several years, eventually ceding that seat to his son, William Clay Ford, Jr..

Ford served in the U.S. Navy Air Corps during World War II. He married Martha Parke Firestone, the granddaughter of Harvey Firestone on June 21, 1947. He received a BS in Economics from Yale University in 1949.

Birth* 14 March 1925  2,1,3 
Marriage* 21 June 1947  Principal=Martha Parks Firestone2,1,4 
News/Obit 22 May 2001  News Item,
Automaker to replace millions of tires

By Jeff Plungis / Detroit News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Ford Motor Co. announced a major campaign Tuesday to replace up to 13 million potentially defective tires on older vehicles, after the embattled tire company Monday ended its 100-year relationship with its largest and oldest customer.

Rep. Billy Tauzin disclosed the number Tuesday after meeting with Ford chief executive Jacques Nasser. Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the House Commerce Committee, said the effort would cost Ford up to $3 billion and take nine months to complete. The recall covers all remaining Firestone Wilderness AT tires on its vehicles.

In months of testing and research, Ford collected data from customer warranty claims suggesting the tires subject to the latest recall are failing at three times the normal rate.

Customers will be able to return tires covered by the recall to Ford dealers and get free replacements. John Rintamaki, Ford's group vice president and chief of staff, said the tires would be replaced according to their age, with Ford to contact affected customers by mail.

The latest recall follows an extraordinary exchange Monday in which Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. accused Ford of raising doubts about the reliability of Firestone tires while failing to acknowledge safety issues about its best-selling Explorer SUV.

It is unprecedented that a supplier would in effect publicly fire its biggest customer. The unusual actions highlight a high-stakes struggle between two industrial giants whose past have been linked through long-running business partnerships and blood relations.

The corporate drama is being played out just as Ford is launching its redesigned 2002 Explorer, the nation's top-selling SUV, and Firestone is in the midst of a major marketing campaign to rebuild its tarnished image.

The spat heated up in recent days as word leaked that Ford planned to release data that supported the need for replacement of millions of Firestone tires not included in last year's recall of 6.5 million tires on Explorers.

The Detroit News file photo

In happier times Ford family members gathered for this photo. They are William Clay Ford, his wife, Martha Parke Firestone, and their children, William Ford Jr. and Sheila Ford Hamp.

In a blistering letter Monday to Ford president Jacques Nasser, Firestone president and CEO John Lampe wrote that "business relationships, like personal ones, are built on trust and mutual respect. We have come to the conclusion that we can no longer supply tires to Ford since the basic foundation of our relationship has been seriously eroded."

The decision followed a meeting in Nashville between Lampe and Ford's lead research team, including Carlos Mazzorin, Ford's top executive in charge of purchasing.

"We believe they are attempting to divert scrutiny of their vehicle by casting doubt on the quality of Firestone tires," Lampe said. "The tires are safe, and when we have a problem, we will acknowledge that problem and fix it. We expect Ford to do the same."
Ford presented evidence from its investigation into the failure of Firestone Wilderness AT and ATX tires, which included a review of the latest Firestone real-world data, competitive tire data and extensive laboratory and vehicle tests.

"We are deeply disappointed that, upon hearing and seeing this analysis of Firestone Wilderness AT tires, Firestone decided not to work together for the safety of our shared customers, which is the only issue that matters," Nasser said.

Nasser said Ford would make its evidence public Tuesday.

A messy affair

The break between the two companies promises to be a messy public affair. It it is all the more intriguing because of the century-long relationship of the Fords and Firestones, two of the nation's wealthiest and most recognized families.

Ford Motor Co. founder Henry Ford was close friends with Harvey Firestone, the entrepreneur who founded the Akron, Ohio, tire company. The two men shared political, social and business philosophies.

So close were the families that their children and heirs socialized. William Clay Ford, the grandson of Henry Ford, wooed and married Martha Parke Firestone, the granddaughter of the Firestone founder. Their son is William Clay Ford Jr., current Ford chairman.

Relations between the two companies have been strained since last August when Firestone announced the initial recall of defective tires that led to 174 deaths and 700 injuries, mostly caused by rollovers in Explorers when a back tire failed.

Ford maintains the accidents were caused solely by defective tires. But Firestone, while admitting design and manufacturing irregularities, has maintained that the design of the Explorer contributed to the failures.

Consumer groups had previously sought to broaden the tire recall to other Firestone tires. Ford apparently now agrees.

Ford shared its test data with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last week. It has regularly updated regulators on its findings on Firestone tires and road tests on other SUVs that pinpoint blame on the tires while exonerating the Explorer.

Of the approximately 47 million Wilderness AT, ATX and ATX II tires that have been sold, less than 15 percent were subject to last year's tire recall. The recall focused on only 15-inch versions of ATX, ATX II and only those Wilderness AT tires manufactured at its Decatur, Ill., plant.

Consumer groups have raised concerns about 16-inch versions and those with similar designs made at other plants. The tires that Ford will replace are also used on vehicles sold by other manufacturers, which could force competitors to take similar action.

NHTSA's defect investigation is ongoing and is expected to be complete this summer. NHTSA officials say a voluntary action by Ford to replace all Wilderness AT tires would not stop the investigation.

Both companies damaged

The stunning disintegration of a corporate partnership underscores the mounting damage inflicted on both companies by last year's tire recall.
Both companies face hundreds of lawsuits stemming from the defective tire recall. Many of the lawsuits are being carried out under a federal judge in Indianapolis. Ford and Firestone have aggressively settled dozens of the suits before they reach trial. Each company could face billions of dollars in settlement costs or punitive damages.

Ford can ill afford more bad news for the Explorer, the top-selling SUV and one of the company's cash cows since the early 1990s. It delayed the introduction of the 2002 model, which was redesigned to satisfy consumer concerns raised by the tire recall.

But the new model has been been subject to two recalls already. Over the weekend, Ford recalled 47,000 Explorers after it was discovered its Louisville, Ky., assembly line was too narrow, inflicting cuts five to nine inches long and half an inch deep in one or both of the right tire treads. Ford said the cuts were cosmetic and would not affect tire performance. The company has no reports of accidents or injuries from the problem.

In April, Ford recalled 57,000 Explorers over fears that its liftgate window could shatter.

Firestone's survival

For Firestone, the issue may be sheer survival. The tire recall put the American company in the red. And Bridgestone Inc., the company's Japanese parent, spent more than $750 million on the recall while seeing its stock price drop dramatically.

Firestone has moved more aggressively in recent months to re-establish its corporate image, partly by raising questions about the design of the Explorer.

The tire maker released results of its investigation in December, which focused on poor quality rubber stock at its Illinois plant and the use of a rubber coating surrounding the tires' steel belts that provided poor adhesion.

While acknowledging tire design problems, Firestone said Ford was also to blame. It cited the Explorer's weight, design and the decision by Ford to recommend a low tire pressure of 26 pounds per square inch.

In March, Ford officials made an extensive presentation to NHTSA investigators at its Dearborn headquarters. In that presentation, Ford argued that its road testing of the Explorer and other midsize SUVs suggested that there was no safety problem with the Explorer.

In its statement Monday, Ford said the Explorer has been rated by the Department of Transportation at or near the top for safety among the 12 SUVs in its class. The Explorer has an "industry-leading" safety record with Goodyear tires, it added.

Last month, consumer groups and Public Citizen released research that suggested that nonrecalled Wilderness AT tires had the same design flaws as the recalled versions, and that failure rates were similar for recalled and nonrecalled versions.

But the groups also criticized Ford for the specifications for the Wilderness AT it had provided to Firestone, saying the tires were not robust enough for a heavy SUV like the Explorer. They also maintained that the Explorer is difficult to handle in accidents involving tread separations, adding to the severity of the crashes.

News/Obit* 4 May 2003  News Item,
William Clay Ford

His Detroit field of dreams added new piece to city's rebirth

By Mike O'Hara / The Detroit News

Age: 78 Residence: Grosse Pointe Shores

Occupation: Owner of the Detroit Lions and Ford Motor Co. board member

Honored: For bringing the Detroit Lions back to the city of Detroit with the opening of Ford Field in 2002.

William Clay Ford never enjoyed taking a U-turn more than the one that brought the Lions back to Detroit.

The franchise, which Ford has owned since 1964, returned home after a 27-year hiatus at the Pontiac Silverdome when the Lions kicked off the 2002 season at Ford Field.

The $500 million state-of-the-art facility garnered praise from architects and sports industry leaders around the country, but for Ford it was much more -- a commitment to the city where the team entered the National Football League in 1934.

"It means an awful lot to me," Ford said. "This is where the Lions started, and this is where we ought to be. I've never been one of these owners that threatened to move to another city if we didn't get what we wanted.

"This is our home."

The NFL's 2003 season will mark Ford's 40th as sole owner of the Lions, but he has been a fan since that very first year in 1934. That's when his father, Edsel, took him to games at the old University of Detroit stadium.

In 1956, Ford became a director of the franchise and was on board when the team won its last NFL championship in 1957. He rose to president in 1961, made an offer to buy the franchise in 1963, and in 1964, became sole owner.

In the late 1960s and early '70s, Ford hoped to move the franchise from Tiger Stadium to a new facility at the State Fairgrounds.

"It never materialized," Ford said. "It would have kept it within the confines of the city of Detroit. I thought that was important, and I still do. But there were too many politics involved."

Frustrated, Ford moved the Lions to the Silverdome in 1975. The 80,000-seat indoor stadium was fine for spectators, but it became outmoded in an era that requires stadiums to generate income for their tenants.

In 1995, Ford's son -- Bill Jr. -- began exploring options with former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer to bring the team back to Detroit.

"I've got to give Mayor Archer full credit," Ford said. "He plugged away at this thing. He did a superb job of smoothing things over and making them work."

Archer remembers the groundbreaking ceremony almost four years ago.

"I can't ever forget the look on Mr. Ford's face when we were placing the bricks down at what is now the site of Ford Field," said Archer, now a partner in the Detroit law firm of Dickinson Wright. "The smile. You had a sense that he was back home. It wasn't something that was just for show. It was genuine.

"It (Ford Field) is a major statement of the family's continued support for the city of Detroit."

Ford Field already has been a central piece of the puzzle to spark business and development in the downtown area. In addition to concerts and other events, it has been selected to host Super Bowl XL in 2006.

Ford, the grandson of auto pioneer Henry Ford, is married to the former Martha Parke Firestone -- granddaughter of the tire magnate Harvey Firestone. They have three daughters, Martha, Sheila and Elizabeth, and one son, Bill Jr., chairman and CEO of Ford Motor Co.

Although he retired from his position as vice-chairman of Ford Motor Co. in 1989, Ford remains on the automaker's board of directors, along with son Bill Jr., and nephew Edsel Ford II. He has been a board member since 1948. He also serves on the board's influential finance and governance committees, giving him a direct role in setting corporate governance policy.

Ford was chairman of the design committee from its inception in 1957 until his retirement. His expertise is in design, and he was the executive in charge of the design and development of the Lincoln Continental Mark II.

The Ford family's charitable endeavors are widespread and well-known.

In the NFL, the Detroit Lions Charities program is a model for how a sports franchise reaches out and supports its local community. During the past 13 years, the program has distributed grants of more than $2.3 million to programs around the state, including more than $330,000 awarded this year.

Ford's generosity was recognized by the University of Michigan in 1997, when the outdoor courts and new tennis center were named in his honor for his contributions to the program. In 1996, an addition to Ford Hospital in Detroit was named the William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine.

"We're all fully aware of the fact that Ford is almost synonymous with Detroit," Ford said. "I think we all feel an obligation to do whatever we can."

Of course, the one area Ford wants to improve is the football team, which has won only five games in the last two years.

"People have taken to (Ford Field) and are proud of it," he said. "All we've got to do now is the same old thing -- give them a winning team."

News/Obit 9 March 2005  News Item,
William Clay Ford to retire from Ford board

Wednesday, March 9, 2005
By David Phillips / The Detroit News

DEARBORN -- William Clay Ford Sr. is retiring as a director of Ford Motor Co. after nearly 57 years, the company announced today, leaving two Ford family members on the automaker's board.

While he will remain a director emeritus after Ford's annual shareholder meeting on May 12, William Clay Ford Sr.'s retirement marks the end of an era at one of America's last remaining family controlled firms. His son, Ford Chairman and CEO Bill Ford Jr., and Edsel B. Ford II, son of longtime Ford Chairman Henry Ford II, will become the only family members on the company's board.

William Clay Ford, 79, has been a Ford director since June 1948 and served as chairman of the board's powerful finance committee from November 1987 until January 1995. He will turn 80 on March 14.

"Leaving the board will relieve me of formal duties and give me more flexibility, but I still expect to spend as much time as possible with the extended family of Ford people and will gladly help the company and the board," he said in a statement today. "The Ford Motor company has always been part of my life and I continue to draw a lot of energy from this wonderful and exciting business."

While overshadowed by his older brother, Henry Ford II, who died in 1987, William Clay Ford Sr. served as a generational caretaker of the family's controlling stake in the automaker. At the same time, he helped institutionalize the practice of professional management atop the automaker that began with the appointment of Philip Caldwell as Ford CEO in 1979 and Ford chairman in March 1980, without relinquishing the Ford family's control.

"My dad helped lead Ford into the modern era and make us who we are. His institutional knowledge is an incredible asset," Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr. said in a statement. "I will, of course, continue to turn to him for advice and counsel."

William Clay Ford Sr. was elected a vice chairman of Ford in 1980 and retired from the position in 1989.

"He has made innumerable contributions to the company and its shareholders and the board is gratified that he will remain available to us during these challenging times," said Carl E. Reichardt, a Ford director since 1986 and the board's second-longest serving member.

According to the company's 2004 proxy statement, William Clay Ford Sr. holds about 21 percent of the automaker's controlling Class B shares, and 15 million shares of Ford common stock.

In addition to his board duties, he has served as a consultant to the company, earning $100,000 a year, since January 1993.

He is the last surviving grandson of Ford Motor Co. founder Henry Ford and longtime owner of the Detroit Lions.

After graduating from Yale University in 1949, he joined the company as a full-time employee and held a variety of executive posts before becoming vice president and general manager of the Continental division in 1954. In 1956, he assumed responsibility for corporate product planning and design.

During his career he oversaw the design and development of a number of models, including the Continental Mark II. He was named vice president for product design in 1973. When the design committee of the company's Policy and Strategy Committee was formed in 1957, William Clay Ford Sr. became its first chairman, a post he held until he retired from the company in 1989.

William Clay Ford's son, Ford Chairman Bill Ford, and nephew, Edsel B. Ford II, have served as Ford directors since 1988. Elena Ford, the granddaughter of Henry Ford II, has expressed an interest in joining the board. She currently serves as director of North America product marketing for Ford.

News/Obit 10 March 2005  News Item,

William Clay Ford plans to retire from company board

March 10, 2005



William Clay Ford, the last surviving grandson of Henry Ford, plans to retire from the Ford Motor Co. Board of Directors after nearly 57 years, the company announced Wednesday.

Ford, who turns 80 Monday, is the father of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bill Ford and has been on the board for more than half of the company's history, elected before he even graduated from Yale University.

Overshadowed by his brother, Henry Ford II, who ran the company from 1945 to 1980, William Clay Ford is perhaps best known as the owner and chairman of the Detroit Lions, positions he apparently plans to keep.

A member of the powerful finance committee, Ford informed the board Wednesday that he will not stand for re-election when his term expires in May. At the board's request, he will be named director emeritus.

There are no plans to replace him on the board, said company spokesman Oscar Suris.

"This is obviously a bittersweet moment for me and everyone who loves the Ford Motor Co.," Bill Ford said in a statement. "I speak frequently about the family values that define our company's culture. But in doing so, I am simply echoing everything my father taught me about the importance of embracing principles, setting high standards of behavior and acting responsibly toward the people with whom we work, the customers we serve and the world in which we live."

Carl Reichardt, the second longest-serving board member, thanked William Clay Ford on behalf of the entire board, saying, "He has made innumerable contributions to the company and its shareholders during his 57 years, and the board is gratified that he will remain available to us as director emeritus during these challenging times."

The company Ford leaves in his son's hands is working through the lowest market share in at least 25 years -- even as profits grew to $3.5 billion last year.

Ford Motor Co. stock closed Wednesday at $12.34 , near its lowest level in a year. Perhaps as a show of confidence, William Clay Ford purchased 2,667 shares of common stock for $33,470, the company said in a filing Tuesday with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.

He directly owns more than 8 million shares of common stock and 4.9 million shares of the family's Class B shares that give them expanded voting rights. Ford's retirement has no impact on his ownership stake.

In a statement, Ford said: "Leaving the board will relieve me of formal duties and give me more flexibility, but I still expect to spend as much time as possible with the extended family of Ford people and will gladly help the company and the board in any way I can. The Ford Motor Co. has always been part of my life and I continue to draw a lot of energy from this wonderful and exciting business."

Raised in luxury

Born in 1925, when his family was one of the best known in the United States, William Clay Ford was raised in the family's opulent Lake St. Clair estate in what is now Grosse Pointe Shores. It was built by his father, Edsel, who was Henry Ford's only child.

Despite his small size, William Clay Ford was an avid sportsman. He earned seven athletic letters at Yale, where he was captain of the soccer and tennis teams.

The only member of his generation to be active in athletics, according to "The Fords: An American Epic" by Peter Collier and David Horowitz, Ford said he loved sports for their democratic values, the fact that he could win or lose on his merits, rather than his connections.

Ford joined the Navy in 1945, where he won an athletic competition among hundreds of cadets. "Without anyone knowing my name or who I was or whether I had a dime, I did it on my own," he said years later.

The University of Michigan named its outdoor tennis courts for Ford, who donated $1 million for the facility.

While attending Yale after the war, Collier and Horowitz wrote, young Ford secretly dated Martha Firestone, the granddaughter of one of his grandfather's best friends and camping buddies, tire magnate Harvey Firestone.

Their 1947 marriage, in Akron, Ohio, united two of the nation's great fortunes, and was witnessed by members of the Rockefeller and Edison families.

Perhaps because of his youth, athleticism and genial nature, he was by far the favorite grandson of Henry Ford. When arranging for the succession of the company's management, the company founder had tried to bypass his namesake, Henry Ford II, in favor of then 18-year-old Billy, according to "Ford: The Men and the Machine," by Robert Lacey.

But William Clay's older brother, the swashbuckling Hank the Deuce, held on to company's reins for the next four decades, marrying three times, cutting a well-publicized swath through high society from Grosse Pointe to the Cote d'Azur, and generally keeping the family business going strong.

Meanwhile, William Clay Ford lived quietly, tending to the design end of the family car business and raising his family.

He was first elected to the Ford board on June 4, 1948, and started working at the company after he graduated from Yale in 1949. He served in a variety of executive positions before being appointed vice president and general manager of the Continental Division in 1954. In 1956, Ford assumed responsibility for corporate product planning and design.

He oversaw the design and development of a number of classic vehicles, including the elegant Continental Mark II. He was appointed vice president of product design in 1973.

In 1978, Ford was elected chairman of the executive committee and appointed a member of the office of the chief executive. He was elected vice chairman in 1980 and chairman of the finance committee in 1987. He retired from his post as vice chairman in 1989 and as chairman of the finance committee in 1995.

As he ascended the company and family ladder, he continued his love of sports, buying the Detroit Lions football team in 1964 for $4.5 million.

He also enjoyed his children's athletic pursuits, but he eventually forced himself to stop coming to Bill Jr.'s hockey games because each time he showed up, his son got into a fight.

"He thought I fought for his benefit," Bill Jr. recalled. "Every time he'd come, I'd get in a brawl."

Ford Sr. similarly managed to beat a problem with alcohol: After years of hard drinking, he just stopped one day in 1965.

His son once told the Free Press that he doesn't remember his father's drinking or the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings held at the family mansion.

But he does remember the stern talk his father gave him when he brought home a weak report card.

The father told the son that if he wanted to succeed in life, like his hero Gordie Howe, he was going to have to work hard.

"I don't care if you get straight A's. I don't care if you score three goals. But I do care that you give your best effort every day, and in everything you do."


William Clay Ford Sr. is the last surviving grandson of founder Henry Ford, and his retirement from the Ford Motor Co. Board of Directors will bring the number of family members on the board to two: his son, Bill, and nephew, Edsel II.

What won't change?

Ford Motor Co.: He has not been involved in day-to-day operations for 16 years.

Ford's Board of Directors: His attendance at board meetings had been spotty in recent years, and he is not being replaced.

Ford family: He continues to hold 4.9 million shares of Class B stock that gives the family 40 percent of the voting rights.

Detroit Lions: He will remain owner and chairman of the NFL team.

William Clay Ford by the numbers

  • Age next week: 80
  • His net worth: $1 billion
  • Number of Ford shares he directly and indirectly owns in common and family stock : 14,783,167
  • Amount he paid to buy the Lions in 1963: $4.5 million
  • Years he has owned the Lions: 42
  • Number of Lions playoff victories: 1
  • Number of athletic letters he won at Yale: 7
  • Number of holes-in-one he has hit: 7


Last Edited 12 Oct 2005

  1. [S323] News Bank.
  2. [S658] Firestone Family of Frederick Co. MD (1993), George Ely Russell.
  3. [S207], online
  4. [S405] Answers.Com, online

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