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William Clay Ford Jr.

b. 3 May 1957

Father William Clay Ford b. 14 March 1925
Mother Martha Parks Firestone b. 16 September 1925
Pop-up Pedigree

Family Lisa Vanderzee b. circa 1957

William Clay Ford, Jr.

William Clay (Bill) Ford Jr. (born May 3, 1957) is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Ford Motor Company.


He was born in Detroit, Michigan, the great-grandson of Henry Ford. His father was William Clay Ford, Sr., and his mother was Martha Parke Firestone, the granddaughter of Harvey Firestone. He graduated from Princeton University in 1979 and in 1984, received an MS in Management from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Early Career

He joined Ford in 1979 and held a variety of positions -- notably beginning in the finance staff, a grooming ground for future executives, and several years as a mid-ranking executive in product development. He also briefly headed the Climate Control Division (sinced divested from the company as part of the Visteon spinoff). At the time of the Ford 2000 reorganization, he was in charge of heavy truck operations.

Corporate Governance

Ford gave up his executive position in heavy truck product management to become chairman of the finance committee, a non-executive corporate governance position, for several years before becoming Chairman. He also served as chairman of the board without the CEO title for some time before then-CEO Jacques Nasser was ousted. The ouster reflected significant differences in corporate values -- Nasser was known to be mostly about money and power, while Ford is noted for valuing people and tradition.

Notable acts and events

Bill generated a name for himself when he was serving only as Chairman and not CEO. On February 1, 1999 when the Ford Rouge Powerhouse had an explosion that killed several Ford employees, Bill Ford rejected the ideas of his advisors and rushed to the scene from Ford World Headquarters. One of his staff cautioned, "Generals don't go out to the front lines." Ford's retort: "Then bust me down to private." Ford stopped and gave a heart-breaking account of the explosion to roadside television crews.

In both 2004 and 2005 Ford has announced contribution of his performance-based stock bonuses to scholarship funds benefitting employees, and to charity.

According to news reports, Ford "is a tae kwon do blackbelt, a student of Zen and Tibetan Buddhism and a folk guitar player."

He is noted as an environmentalist.

Biography   Ford, William Clay Jr.
Date of Birth: May 3, 1957

Biography from Current Biography (1999)
Copyright (c) by The H. W. Wilson Company. All rights reserved.

Ford Jr., William Clay
Chairman of Ford Motor Co.

Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, once responded to insinuations of nepotism with the gruff remark that there were no "crown princes" in his company. In recent years the company has indeed looked every bit the meritocracy its scion envisioned; Ford family members have been notably absent from the corporate leadership. Since the retirement of Henry Ford II in 1980, the world's second largest company has been led by so-called professional managers--in other words, non-Fords--who have ensured that the company's chain of command is scaled by only the most deserving family members. Lacking nostalgia, these managers are far more concerned with the value of the company stock than they are with the family name and its presence in the organizational scheme.
Thus the appointment, in January 1999, of William Clay Ford Jr. as chairman of the board of directors at Ford represented less a prince's inevitable assumption of his father's throne than the culmination of a career of hard work and struggling up the corporate ladder. The event marked William Ford's triumph over suspicions of nepotism and signaled the family's return to a visible role in the company in a time when they seemed to be in danger of losing it.
William Clay Ford Jr., the great-grandson of Henry Ford, was born in Detroit, Michigan, on May 3, 1957 into the branch of the Ford family that controls 37 of the family's stock in Ford. His father, William Clay Ford Sr., the brother of Henry Ford II, was a high-ranking Ford executive who retired as vice chairman in 1989. He is estimated to be worth $500 million, $405 million of which comes from his shares in the company. William's mother, Martha Firestone, is the granddaughter of rubber company founder Harvey Firestone and so has added to the family wealth. Described as studious, patient and thoughtful, William Jr. excelled both in athletics and academics, and received a blue-chip education. He attended the elite Hotchkiss School in Lakeview, Connecticut, where he played soccer, hockey, and tennis. In 1975 he entered Princeton, in New Jersey, where he majored in history and took up rugby.
Upon graduation from college in 1979, William Ford Jr. needed to decide whether or not to enter the family business. At the time the prospects for family members seeking top executive positions within the company were not as bright as one might imagine. With Henry Ford II's impending retirement, for the first time in the company's history the top-level leadership roles would be filled by individuals outside the Ford family--a breed of executives notoriously suspicious of Ford family members with aspirations in the company. Consequently, William Jr. was somewhat hesitant about taking a job there. "At Princeton, I felt there were a lot of other companies to work for. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that everything I have is due to Ford Motor Co. and that I ought to give it my best shot," he recalled to Alex Taylor III of Fortune (January 16, 1989). He started as a products planning analyst in Advanced Vehicles Development.
William's career at Ford has largely consisted of a series of short-term appointments, described by William as "summer jobs," and rapid promotions. Three years after joining the company, William was appointed a member of Ford's National Bargaining Team for labor talks with the United Auto Workers Union. He was then appointed marketing strategy analyst for North American Automotive Operations and was named to the board of trustees of the Edison Institute, which oversees the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. In June 1983 William spent some time away from Ford to improve his knowledge of finance with a year-long course of study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a prestigious Alfred P. Sloan fellow. After receiving a master's degree in management, William returned to Ford as an international finance specialist. In April 1985 William became a Car Product Development planning manager. The next year he was named director of Commercial Vehicle Marketing for Ford of Europe, and in 1987 William was elected Chairman and managing director of Ford Switzerland, a Ford Motor Co. subsidiary. In this post he supervised a sales and dealer support organization of 110 people responsible for moving 25,000 cars per year.
Following the death of Henry Ford II in September 1987, the Ford family was forced to deal with a number of issues that would determine its role in the company for decades to come. Most pressing was the family's imminent loss of stock in (due to estate taxes levied after a death)--and hence control of--the Ford Motor Co. Although Henry Ford did much to leave his heirs in control of the company, as decades passed their grip necessarily began to loosen. In 1936, 11 years before his death, Henry established the Ford Foundation as a way of circumventing the estate tax. Henry and his son Edsel gave 95 of the company's stock to the foundation and the remaining stock was reserved for the family, who held the voting power. After becoming a publicly held stock in 1956, the Ford Foundation assumed 60 of the company's votes while the family received the remainder of the vote through class B shares. A class B share is a special type of stock worth eight times the normal vote. However, only family members may own it and once it is sold to a non-family member its reverts to normal status. Therefore, the family's voting power declines as members die and stock is sold off to pay estate taxes.
At a meeting in December 1987, the family sought to remedy their problem by forming a trust to retain or increase influence on the company's board and to raise funds to buy any family shares put up for sale. After this move toward solidarity, which united the far-flung Ford family and consolidated their interests, they looked to reestablish within the company's leadership the family presence they had lost with the death of Henry II. The two most likely candidates were Edsel B. Ford II, a son of Henry II, and his cousin, William Jr. Edsel is nine years older than William, and in some ways the cousins are opposites. William had always been serious and studious; Edsel, a cigar and race-car driving enthusiast and Detroit celebrity, was notorious within family circles for having struggled to finish high school and college. Nonetheless, Edsel was initially, and for a long time, the family's great hope. His progression withing the company, however, had been slowed early on by reports of a short temper as well as a lack of creativity.
On January 14, 1988, Edsel Ford II and William Ford Jr. joined William Ford Sr. on the board of directors. Tension developed immediately, however, between then-CEO Donald Petersen and the new board members over the slow pace of their careers. By the end of the year, Edsel was loudly complaining that neither he nor William Jr. held seats on the powerful executive and financial committees--the forums in which important decisions on issues such as capital spending are discussed. Following the retirement of William Ford Sr. in March, both Edsel and William Jr. were named to the committees. Shortly afterward William Jr. was promoted to manager of heavy-truck engineering and manufacturing, and thus took charge of Ford's sole heavy-truck plant, located in Louisville, Kentucky, and its 800 employees.
With the end of the 1980s, a series of appointments and promotions rapidly moved William up the Ford chain of command. In 1990 he was promoted to director of business strategy, a position in which he was responsible for developing long-term goals and strategies, and which is usually a stepping stone to more senior executive positions. Many observers saw the appointment as a turning point, indicating that William, not Edsel, was the family member most likely to eventually take the helm of the company. William, however, dismissed such speculations in a statement made to the New York Times (March 8, 1990): "I don't think that this will make me the leading family representative at Ford. Edsel and I will continue to work as a team." Nevertheless, the company's faith in William became evident again in 1995, when the board of directors appointed him chairman of the financial committee, a position his father once held. The numerous responsibilities of the chairmanship forced William to resign his operating role in the company.
William took on another new challenge in 1995 when he became vice chairman of the National Football League's Detroit Lions, a team owned by his father. William had been increasingly involved with the Lions since becoming the team's treasurer in 1982. As vice chairman, William proved to be an activist with a distinct vision for the team's future. One of his first acts was to save the team's prestigious Thanksgiving-day game, which the league had threatened to give away to a better team. William was responsible for numerous innovations including introducing a new marketing campaign, restructuring the ticketing policy, launching a team website, and starting weekly radio and television shows. But the most impressive accomplishment of his tenure thus far has been the deal he made to move the Lions from suburban Pontiac to a new $265 million domed stadium in Detroit proper. Under the plan, Ford will foot half the bill while several city government agencies will pay the rest. As if to signal a renewed confidence in the Lions, the NFL has promised to hold a Super Bowl in the new stadium.
Many industry pundits rightly saw William's promotion in the Lions' organization, and his ensuing take-charge leadership, as a prelude to taking over at Ford. With the announcement that Alex Trotman, CEO and chairman of Ford since 1993, would retire at the end of 1998, the board of directors elected William Clay Ford Jr. as chairman and chose long-time Ford executive Jacques Nasser as Chief Executive Officer. In a move that is common in Europe but rare in American business, the board decided to split the leadership duties by putting Nasser in charge of the day-to-day activities of the company. On his partnership, William remarked to Ron Stodghill II of Time (December 8, 1997), "The two of us together would be natural. Jacques and I are very good friends. It doesn't have to be one of us or the other running the company." As Stodghill explained, the double appointment caters to the long-term interests of the Ford family, by putting one of their own at the top of the company ("I'm a Ford," William said, "so I'm not going anywhere else."), and should also satisfy the short-term concerns of Wall Street investors by utilizing the talents of the cost-cutting Nasser.
With William in charge, Ford will begin to examine the host of environmental problems linked with automobile emissions. In an industry where environmentalism is usually viewed as anathema, William has already peeved some of his fellow auto executives with several bold,public assertions. In a 1997 address to colleagues, he criticized the car industry for its inaction on the issue of global warming. In Automotive News (September 14, 1998), Aaron Robinson reported that William called global warming a threat "real enough so that we all ought to be concerned." To act on his concerns, William has formed and chairs an environment committee on the company's board. An avid outdoorsman, he drives a battery-operated Ford truck that uses no gasoline and produces no emissions. Ford historian Douglas Brinkley told Daniel McGinn of Newsweek (November 23, 1998), "Bill Ford Jr. has a visionary streak that hasn't been seen since the original Henry Ford. . . . It's not enough for him to run the company--he wants to make the automobile pollution-free."
Although there may be some questions about which direction the new chairman will take his company in the coming years, one thing is certain: William Ford Jr. inherits a company that is as financially strong as it has been in years. Former CEO Alex Trotman's ambitious Ford 2000 globalization plan was a smashing success, and profits climbed briskly during six consecutive years of high sales. As analyst John Casesa told Stodghill, "The family is happy with what it sees. The company is flush with cash, and there is a feeling that Ford is starting to reassert its leadership in the industry." William Ford Jr. told McGinn that having a Ford in charge again "sets our company apart . . . it gives us an identity that other nameless, faceless corporations don't have."
William Clay Ford Jr. lives in Michigan with his wife, the former Lisa Vanderzee, and their four children. He enjoys playing hockey and flyfishing, and is a Civil War buff.
Marriage*   Principal=Lisa Vanderzee2 
Birth* 3 May 1957  Detroit, Wayne Co., MI1 
News/Obit* 31 October 2001  News Item,
Ford Jr. takes on role he was born to play

10/31/2001 - Updated 07:33 AM ET From USAToday

Ford Jr. takes on role he was born to play By James Cox and David Kiley, USA TODAY William Clay Ford Jr., new chief executive of Ford Motor, justified his decision to race to the scene of a tragic factory explosion in 1999 by saying that Ford employees were family to him.

Related story Image woes help lead to Nasser's ouster Detroit Lions players and employees are family, too, he has said.

"Family" was the word he chose again Tuesday, using it often as he talked about how he ended up CEO of the auto company founded by his great-grandfather, Henry Ford. "I bleed Ford blue," he told cheering employees.

He replaces the hard-nosed, controversial Jacques Nasser, ousted late Monday, as CEO. But blood loyalties and family history have long stirred ambivalence in Ford Jr. He has refused over the years to read biographies of the visionary Henry. He quit the company in 1995 after serving in 17 midlevel management jobs. And he recently fled the family's multimansion compound in exclusive Gross Pointe Woods, Mich., buying a house in Ann Arbor.

"I certainly never sought this job. Lord knows, I don't need it," Ford told The Detroit News. "But when I saw what was happening to our company, I thought I could help us. It was clear to me that we had relationships with our employees that are not what they could be, and relationships with our dealers and other constituencies are not good."

Bill Ford, as the 44-year-old likes to be called, is clearly his family's choice to head the world's No. 2 automaker. But as apples go, he could not have fallen farther from the tree.

Great-grandpa Henry was a driven, self-educated man, a mechanical genius who fought unions and, later in life, became an overbearing, anti-Semitic crackpot. His son, Edsel, eventually got the company reins but died struggling with the pressures of business and his increasingly bizarre father.

Young Bill got a prep school education before going to Princeton and MIT. He is a tae kwon do blackbelt, a student of Zen and Tibetan Buddhism and a folk guitar player.

His most notable contribution since becoming chairman 2 years ago has been to try to make Ford the most environmentally friendly automaker. He has horrified many in the industry — and many at the company — by publicly blaming auto emissions for greenhouse gases causing climate change. He speaks passionately about a future with cleaner alternative fuels, recyclable cars and compostable parts.

At the moment, Ford's problem is that its earnings are decaying like compost. The automaker lost $692 million in the third quarter as sales fell 9% and unit volume dropped 15% in North America.

Market share in North America, Ford's most profitable area, has been sliding as defect rates have skyrocketed. The company ranked last among the seven largest carmakers in a quality survey earlier this year.

Heading into a recession and a cyclical downturn in auto sales, Ford has lost its dominance in the highly profitable pickup and sport-utility categories.

The Taurus and Sable, the company's workhorse passenger cars, are tired. Operations in Europe, Latin America and Asia are beset with problems.

The biggest blow to the company's bottom line and its pride has been the Explorer fiasco. Ford spent $500 million last year on the recall of 6.5 million tires for the Explorer and Mercury Moutaineer. It will take a $2.1 billion after-tax charge to pay for costs associated with replacing nearly 13 million more Bridgestone/Firestone tires. Pending lawsuits and lost vehicle sales could add hundreds of millions more to the final tab.

To dig out from the mess, Bill Ford has surrounded himself with grayer, wiser heads. That includes Nick Scheele, 57, named Tuesday as president and chief operating officer; Jim Padilla, 55, who will take over as head of Ford North America; and Carl Reichardt, 70, named vice chairman and head of the finance committee.

Coaxing Reichardt, former chairman of Wells Fargo, out of retirement seems a major step in the right direction. He has Wall Street's trust, essential for a company that has gone through three CFOs in 3 years.

"We need to rebuild relationships," Ford said. "I'll be spending a lot of time with Wall Street, dealers, employees, suppliers. A lot of those relationships are broken or not healthy."

Key constituencies Key will be suppliers and dealers.

Suppliers, who once stood in line to win Ford's business, complain that the automaker has been especially brutal in dictating price cuts to them. Even worse, they contend they get little in return for helping Ford design new engines because once the design is finished, Ford puts supply contracts up for open bid.

Dealers want assurances that somebody is listening. They say Nasser barely seemed to know they existed until it was too late. He infuriated them by exploring the idea of Ford-owned dealerships and service centers. He seldom bothered to show up at dealers' national meetings.

In May, Nasser seemed to acknowledge that he had erred. "I believe we are only hurting ourselves when we think, speak or act as if our partners are outsiders," he wrote in an internal memo.

Ford isn't broken, says Hoot McInerny, a legendary Detroit-area Lincoln-Mercury dealer. "What would it take to fix things? Quality, quality, quality," he says. "We just need another turn of the wrench."

Nasser, an Australian of Lebanese descent, wanted constant change and improvement. He saw himself as a reformer in the mold of GE's Jack Welch. Even though he was a 33-year Ford veteran, he had spent little time building valuable loyalties in Dearborn and never bothered to court the family.

Nasser plunged Ford into new areas, and in the process, he took his eye off the basics, analysts say.

"If you've got good products, good quality, you and I could run Ford Motor Co.," McInerny says. "He got caught up in the downturn of the economy, and the crowning blow was the Explorer and the tires."

Nasser's in-your-face style rubbed Ford family members the wrong way. The clan has a history of deflating larger-than-life executives on the company payroll.

Bill Ford's uncle, Henry II, fired then-president Lee Iacocca after growing irritated that Iacocca's outsize personality had become Ford's public persona.

Ford is "structured like an organization of baronies, and the family does not like when a CEO has too strong and dominant a personality," says Gerald Meyers, a former Ford executive and former CEO of American Motors.

Various Ford heirs control 40% of the company's voting shares, each of which has 17 times the voting power of an ordinary share of common stock.

The family has been collecting $85 million a year in dividends. The board's recent decision to slash the dividend dropped the family's cut by about 40%. And it's not just the dividend checks: The value of Ford family shares has fallen almost 50% in the past year.

"Billy" — as he is called by the other 12 Fords of the fourth generation — owns shares worth about $90 million at current prices, according to Forbes magazine's Richest 400 issue.

For love of the company Ford, himself, said his family was "thrilled" to have one of its own atop the company again. "But I'm not approaching this job as a member of the family, but as someone who loves the company."

Ford and Scheele promise a return to the basics, meaning higher-quality cars and trucks. Along with Padilla and Reichardt, they are expected to make decisions more by consensus than the autocratic Nasser, who had 16 managers reporting to him directly before July.

"I want the company to succeed. To do that, we need to get the best people. And if the best people are outside Ford, we will go after them or we'll grow them up from inside," Ford told The News. "I listen a lot. I encourage a lot. I want to hear what people think. This company is too big for any one person to run, I don't care who you are."

Bill Ford, industry insiders say, is not likely to stick around as CEO more than 3 or 4 years. By then, Scheele is likely to retire, and the company will go in search of a professional manager to be its next CEO. Ford is expected to be more involved than a figurehead but somewhat less of an authority figure than many other CEOs.

"William Clay Ford's presence may provide a more stable operating environment," says Merrill Lynch analyst John Casesa. Still, the downturn in the economy and in the industry are "likely to overshadow even the best efforts of the new Ford management team for the near future."

Ford Jr. bleeds Detroit Lions "Honolulu blue," as well as Ford blue. He said Tuesday that the CEO's job would leave him less time with his beloved Lions.

Lions employees say he knows everyone from the coaches to the interns. They recall when he used to play in Friday afternoon touch football games — usually as quarterback — with the staff.

Inevitably, running his great-grandfather's auto company will cut into the time he can spend with his father's football team.

"Unless they need me to play quarterback," he joked about the 0-6 Lions. "And the way things are going. ..."

News/Obit 2 June 2003  News Item,
New generation rallies to put a Ford back at top

CEO Bill Jr. takes control at critical juncture

Monday, June 2, 2003

John T. Greilick / The Detroit News

By Mark Truby and Bill Vlasic / The Detroit News

With the support of his family, including father Bill Ford Sr., Bill Ford Jr. took over the company's top job after 22 years of non-family CEOs. The fourth generation of Fords now has a firm hand on the automaker's future.

DEARBORN -- They gathered on a fall weekend in early October 2001, more than 30 members of an extended family facing a critical point in their history.

The Fords, heirs to the automotive dynasty, had met regularly for 15 years at the company founded by Henry Ford nearly a century before. But this time was different.

It was time for one of their own, 44-year-old Ford Motor Co. Chairman Bill Ford Jr., to save the company that gave them immense wealth and immeasurable pride.

When Bill Jr. addressed the group -- his parents, sisters, in-laws and cousins -- the message could not have been clearer. Ford was in deep trouble, and he was ready to move.

The response was unanimous. The family stood united behind him.

"We didn't like what was going on at all," said Anne Ford, Bill Jr.'s cousin and daughter of the last family leader, Henry II. "Something needed to be done."

Three weeks later, Bill Jr. summoned Ford CEO Jacques Nasser to his 12th-floor corner office at Ford headquarters and fired him, ending one of the most tumultuous periods in Ford's storied history.

After 22 years and five outsiders as chief executive, a Ford was in the driver's seat again at the world's second-biggest automaker.

While employees, shareholders and dealers cheered Bill Jr.'s ascension to the top, nobody was more relieved than the family whose name defines an industry that changed the American way of life.

Together, they control 40 percent of the voting power in a $163 billion global automotive Goliath and own company stock worth at least $1.3 billion. Other fabled business dynasties -- the du Ponts, Rockefellers and Firestones -- have faded away, but the Fords have marched in lockstep through generations.

"There's such tremendous pride in the company," Bill Jr. said. "That's the glue that has kept us together."

But even with a Ford at the helm now, maintaining family power indefinitely will be a titanic task.

If Bill Jr. fails to engineer a comeback, Wall Street could sour on the family's leadership. And down the road, complex inheritance-tax issues and the growing number of heirs could disrupt the family's singleness of purpose.

"It won't be easy for them to maintain cohesion," said Bob Casey, the longtime historian at the Henry Ford Museum. "They are a family, after all. The stakes are just a whole lot higher for them."

The family will convene again later this month, but this occasion will be cause for celebration.

Amid the gala events commemorating Ford's 100-year anniversary on June 16, the far-flung descendants of Henry Ford will bask in the glow of an industrial icon. They'll come from the stately estates of Grosse Pointe, and from homes in New York, Connecticut, Florida and California.

"I heard that 100 percent are expected for the centennial," said Edsel Ford II, a Ford director and retired company vice president.

And above all else, the Fords believe in -- and depend on -- unity.

"The family has the greatest loyalty to the business that you could ever imagine," said Philip Caldwell, Henry II's successor as CEO in 1979. "It's deeper than tradition."

Henry Ford II's death leaves gap

It was the darkest day that many Fords can remember -- the death on Sept. 29, 1987, of Henry Ford II, the patriarch and guiding force of the Ford Motor Co. for four decades.

He had retired as CEO eight years earlier but still loomed large over the company. The family had control of Ford through the special 40 percent voting power of its Class B stock, but it had lost its rudder.

Speculation began immediately on Wall Street, in the media and throughout the industry. Was there another Ford in the automaker's future?

Henry II's brother, Bill Ford Sr., became vice chairman in 1980, but displayed no ambition beyond that. Attention shifted to the next generation, the 13 cousins who were the great-grandchildren of Henry Ford.

Three of the founder's great-grandsons already were working for Ford, and a fourth wanted a voice in management as well.

The oldest, Walter Ford III, worked in marketing, but would become better known for his dashing lifestyle and two messy divorces than his accomplishments at Ford.

Henry II's only son, Edsel II, was on a much faster track as general sales manager of Ford's Lincoln-Mercury division. His cousin, Bill Jr., had just been named head of Ford of Switzerland, and harbored grander ambitions.

The fourth cousin, Benson Ford Jr., was the black sheep of the clan. When his father, Benson Sr., died in 1978, he scandalized the family by suing to control the estate. "I have money," he said in court. "I want to participate in the affairs of Ford Motor Co."

The fifth of Henry's great-grandsons, Alfred Ford, was not a factor. On a vacation in Hawaii, he joined the Hare Krishna movement and took the Hindu name Ambarish Das. Then he moved to San Francisco, far away from the demands of being a Ford.

"Nobody knows me as a Ford here," he said at the time. "I don't feel I'm strong enough to live in Detroit and be the spiritual person I want to be."

The eight women among the fourth generation had no illusions of scaling the corporate ladder at Ford. One married and bought a winery in upstate New York. Another became a teacher and wed an investment banker.

Charlotte Ford, Henry II's oldest daughter, summed up the gender gap:

"I have no desire to be on the board of Ford Motor Co.," Charlotte, a Detroit debutante turned New York socialite, said in 1978. "Anyway, I was born a girl and that takes care of that."

Outsiders keep control for 22 years

By the time of Henry II's death, management of the company was firmly in the hands of career Ford executives. Caldwell had been succeeded as CEO by Donald Petersen, a hard-charging product specialist who was leading Ford to record profits.

In 1988, Petersen acceded to Henry II's long-stated desire to have Edsel II and Bill Jr. join the board of directors, but denied the young Fords spots on any board committees.

Quietly, the family coalesced. They began holding regular meetings, rallying around Bill Sr. and their two hopes for the future -- Edsel II and Bill Jr.

Together, they put a stop to the sale by some family members of the priceless Class B shares. A trust was formed to vote the majority of the shares, with Bill Sr., and later Bill Jr. and Edsel II, serving as the key trustees.

Whether management wanted their involvement or not, the family was determined to protect its enormous interest in the business.

"The family has always voted together," Bill Jr. said. "I can't imagine where that wouldn't be the case."

Bill Ford Jr. starts climbing

With Ford cruising along with robust sales and profits in the 1990s, the family had little incentive to rock the boat. But in 1995, a seemingly obscure event changed the course of the company.

Soft-spoken and diplomatic, Bill Sr. had proved to be a stabilizing force both in the family and on the board of directors. However, in a critical passage of power, he gave up the chairmanship of the board's influential finance committee.

His replacement: Bill Jr., who resigned as a full-time Ford employee. Two years later, he broadened his power base by adding a committee post overseeing environmental and public policy issues.

"It was a real change in the representation of the family, a generational change from Bill Sr. to Bill Jr.," said Allan Gilmour, Ford's current vice chairman.

Bright, personable and politically savvy, Bill Jr. had emerged as the favorite to one day run Ford. All doubt was removed when Edsel II, then president of Ford's credit arm, retired in 1998 after 24 years with the company.

The stage was set for Bill Jr. to make his mark.

Standing in his way, though, was the latest professional manager to serve as Ford chairman and CEO -- Alex Trotman.

When the board discussed succession plans, Trotman boldly opposed Bill Jr.'s desire to serve as nonexecutive chairman.

In one meeting, Trotman proclaimed that there was no place for "royalty" at Ford.

Bill Jr. didn't back down, and shot back a retort at the Scottish-born Trotman, who had been knighted by the Queen of England.

"That's easy for you to say, Sir Alex," he said.

Trotman's dismissive attitude incensed Ford family members. At that point, they put their muscle squarely behind Bill Jr.

"We really pushed for Bill to become chairman," said his cousin, Charlotte. "Everybody wanted it. It was just how it could be done."

Bill Jr., Nasser team up at top

Major changes were at hand. Ford's outside directors grilled Bill Jr. on his goals and vision for the company. When the smoke cleared, the board elected Bill Jr. as chairman and Jacques Nasser, head of worldwide automotive operations, as CEO.

They made an odd couple. Born in Lebanon, raised in Australia and a veteran of Ford postings around the world, Nasser epitomized the globe-trotting CEO armed with loads of operating experience.

Bill Jr. came from a different world. A Grosse Pointe-raised blue blood and avowed environmentalist, the blue-eyed, boyish Bill Jr. was a fresh, if untested, force in the executive suite.

Together he and Nasser vowed to lead Ford into the 21st century.

The odd man out was Edsel II. Bill Jr. downplays the idea that he beat out his cousin to win the chairmanship.

"The truth is there wasn't a runoff between Edsel and I," Bill Jr. said. "That would have been something the family would not have wanted. It would have been divisive."

Historian Doug Brinkley, who researched Ford for five years for a new book on the company, "Wheels for the World," said the family turned to Bill Jr. to guard its interests.

"The feeling was that Bill was willing to deal in a cutthroat business manner and would better protect the family's 40 percent stake," Brinkley said.

Edsel II, for his part, won't entertain any notion that he lost a power struggle. "Bill," he said, "was the right person at the right time."

The Fords in 2002. Front, from left: Bill Ford Jr., Lynn Alandt, Martha Parke Firestone Ford, William Clay Ford, Charlotte Ford, Edsel B. Ford II. Second row, from left: Eleanor Bourke, Paul Alandt, Alfred Brush Ford, Martha Morse, Cynthia Ford, Josephine Ingle, Sheila Hamp, Steve Hamp, Anne Ford. Third row, from left: Francee Ford, Benson Ford Jr., Lindsey Ford Buhl, Jason Ingle, Avery Bourke, Elena Ford. Back row, from left: Alessandro Uzielli, David Buhl, Eleanor Ford, Joe Rippolone.

Company plummets under Nasser reign

The tandem of Bill Jr. and Nasser hit the ground running: buying European luxury brands Land Rover and Volvo and launching an all-out push to transform Ford into a diversified consumer company.

But in August 2000, the first Firestone tire recall stopped Ford's momentum dead. The following year was a nightmare -- employee lawsuits charging age discrimination, anger among dealers opposed to Nasser's policies, poor product quality and evaporating profits.

Now on the inside, Bill Jr. still wasn't sure he had a true grasp of the company. By early 2001, he was questioning if the dynamic, but polarizing, Nasser could manage Ford out of its downward spiral.

Nasser has declined comment on Ford matters since his firing. But, according to current and former Ford executives, Bill Jr. pushed hard for more day-to-day involvement in operations.

In July 2001, the board established the "office of chairman and chief executive" to give Bill Jr. more hands-on input. By then, the company was careening over a cliff.

Family members grew increasingly worried by the frightening turn of events. In family meetings, the tension ratcheted up with every new revelation of Ford's festering troubles.

"We saw what was happening to the company and we didn't like it at all," Charlotte said. "We were ready (for Bill to become CEO) whenever he decided it was appropriate."

In late October, with Nasser attending the Tokyo Motor Show, Bill Jr. quietly held discussions with board members about forcing Nasser out. Irv Hockaday, the retired chairman of Hallmark Cards Inc., and Carl Reichardt, former head of Wells Fargo & Co., helped him build consensus among other outside directors.

At least one family member, Henry II's daughter Anne, personally contacted directors to express her hope that Bill Jr. step in as CEO.

"I called board members to support Bill," she said. "I lobbied for Bill. We were all behind Bill, but the board had to make the decision."

She emphasized that the family never raised the issue of its 40-percent voting bloc to sway the board.

"We have a controlling interest but we didn't try to use that," she said. "Not to say we won't in the future."

It wasn't necessary. The board could not live any longer with Nasser, either. The mantle of leadership, once passed on from Henry Ford to Henry II, fell squarely on the shoulders of Bill Jr.

Keeping control won't be easy

Power has returned to the family. But can it remain there in the decades to come?

A difficult test will come upon the deaths of Bill Sr., 78, and his 79-year-old sister, Josephine.

They own a combined 28.3 million shares of Class B stock, or 40 percent of the total. Under current law, their inheritance taxes could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Bill Jr. said a special stock fund should help their estates handle a huge tax hit. If the family was forced to sell too many of its Class B shares, its powerful voting stake would vanish.

That's a bridge the Fords hope never to cross.

"Before it got to that point, the family would probably go and seek out a buyer rather than just everybody dumping shares on the open market," Bill Jr. said.

Selling out, however, is not even discussed by the family. "Frankly, we are about 180 degrees from that," he said.

A trickier issue is what happens with the fifth generation of Fords. They number at least 34 and range from elementary school students to adults in their late 30s.

If the dynasty is to survive, some will have to take a role in Ford affairs. So far, only Charlotte's daughter, Elena, has decided to make a career at Ford.

She hopes that others will gravitate to the family business.

"This is not just for us, it's for our grandchildren and our grandchildren's children," said Elena, a mother of four children and an executive in Ford's international operations. "We have to deliver the future."

Edsel II has four sons, the oldest of whom is Henry III, a recent college graduate. Would he be pleased to see his sons join the company?

"The more members of the family working for Ford Motor Co., the better," said Edsel II. "As long as they work hard."

The corporate life is not meant for everybody, said Alessandro Uzielli, Anne's son. He spent six months at Ford of Europe before choosing to produce films in Hollywood. His second movie, the 1998 comedy "Bongwater," was a minor cult hit, and he is now reopening the storied La Dolce Vita restaurant in Beverly Hills.

Being a Ford heir can have its downside in L.A. business circles. "People try to take advantage of you," he said.

Yet even as he pursues another career path, he realizes the bigger responsibility facing all the Fords in the future.

"It is all of our intent to keep things as they are," he said, "for as long as we can."


Last Edited 12 Oct 2005

  1. [S405] Answers.Com, online
  2. [S406] Biographies Plus Illustrated, online

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