At the youthful age of 41, his conversation still sprinkled with terms like "cool" and "neat," William Clay Ford Jr. is out to change the auto world. "I was born in l957," he says, "and for me the first really cool car is the '64 Mustang."
He sits at the pinnacle of power, the newly-minted chairman of the Ford Motor Company board, the great grandson of Henry Ford, who founded the company 96 years ago.
"For me", he states, "it's not really a job, it's a calling if you will."
Indeed, it's an incredible calling: Henry Ford's great-grandson Bill is the fourth Ford to sit at the top of the company. Following Henry was Bill Ford's grandfather Edsel, followed by Bill's uncle Henry Ford II, also known as Henry the Deuce, who once said: "Go out and do something constructive that works. You're going to make mistakes. So what?"
Says Bill Ford, "I guess I've got gasoline instead of blood in my veins."
Bill Ford is primed for his new job. He has worked for the company for 15 years. Now, teamed up with Jasques Nassar, company president and CEO, the two are on the verge of turning the $156 billion Ford Motor Co. into the largest corporation in the world.
Ray Brady: "I looked up just how great in terms of sheer financial size Ford is and you were 3½ times the size of Microsoft, Apple, Intel and Netscape combined. That's a giant, giant company."
Ford: "We are a huge company. We have great global reach."
Just this past week, Ford announced that its sale of light trucks and sport utility vehicles broke all records, up l9.3 percent, a breakneck pace the company hopes to continue.
Brady: "You've got $6 million a year in dividends. Wouldn't it be much easier to just take it easy and -"
Ford: "Sure - and feel horrible about yourself. I mean, I feel I have an opportunity that very few people have. And that's truly to make a difference in the world. And for me to turn my back on that opportunity to me would be absolutely wrong."
Brady: "What opportunity? What do you hope to do with the company?"
Ford: "I hope to continue our tradition of being a great company and what I mean by great is this: I think a good company makes excellent cars and trucks. A great company does that and then tries to make a difference in the world."
He can point to the tradition started by his great grandfather. Henry Ford's assembly line changed American industry. And, while Ford had labor problems, he paid workers an unheard of $5 a day. For that, he is in the history books.
Brady: "I recall he said, 'if you don't pay the people enough mony, they can't buy the cars'."
Ford: "It was sort of inventing the middle class..." That middle class was then able to afford a Model T: l0,000 of them were produced in 1909 alone.
Bill Ford's own wheels tell a lot about his plans for the future. As he puts it, " It's not exactly subtle..." His car of choice is an experimental electric-powered Ford truck.
Brady: "Some people say you can have that car by 2004. That's only 5 years away. Is that ridiculous?"
Ford: "No, it's not ridiculous. We clearly can have that technology on the road. Whether we have that in big numbers is something that is open to debate. But clearly in my lifetime, we're going to see vehicles that are driven by propulsion systems."
Brady: "You're well known as an environmentalist. But you're also at the top of an automobile company. Is that a contradiction in terms?"
Ford: "It shouldn't be. I think that in the past, that has been the case. But if Ford is going to capture the hearts and minds of the next generation we'd better get our arms around the environmental issue. And that means owning up to all the things we've done wrong and that we're continuing to do wrong and getting them right."
Brady: "It also means getting into the electric car."
Ford: "It means a lot of things. It means cleaning up our plants. It means cleaning up our vehicles."
Over the years, there have been many innovations in cars. In the auto industry you can never stand still.
Brady: "What kind of new models can we look forward in the company?"
Ford: "One of the things you can look for is this continuing blur between what is considered a car and a truck."
On Wall Street, they're saying that Ford and the other car makers may be too dependent on pickups, vans and sport utility vehicles.
"One of the problems for all U.S. car companies," he says, "is making money on small cars."
But, adds Ford, they are closer to solving that problem. "It is still the Achilles heal for us. We still rely too much on profitability on our large cars and on our trucks. And that's what the consumer has been demanding."
And paying high prices for. On some of those vehicles, Ford racks up profits of $10,000 to $15,000. Ford is betting that the new Focus, now being readied for sale, will be a real winner: Reportedly, it will earn $1,200 more per car than the Escort, the vehicle it replaces.
Not only that, Ford may soon recapture the crown it lost to General Motors 70 years ago.
Brady: "I used to interview your uncle, Henry Ford II, quite a bit and I thought he was a wonderful man, but the company was always #2. Now, on your watch, it looks like Ford is going to be #1. You're going to pass General Motors."
Ford: "It's not something we spend much time talking about. I'm not sure size is necessarily a harbinger of success. I think that size is really an outgrowth of doin other things right. If you do all the basics right, I think that size follows. But I don't think you can manage for size."
Keeping the workforce on your side is a measure of success. Bill Ford seems to know how to connect with auto workers. When an explosion ripped through the company's giant River Rouge plant, the young chairman had been on the job for one month. "I got here the second I found out," Ford recalls. One worker was killed. Scores were seriously burned. At the scene, Ford said, "This is an awful day. This is a tragedy; I think of all the people like members of the Ford family as such. This is one of the worst days my life."
Brady: "I have been covering business for 40 yearsÂ… I never remember a head of a giant company that quick on his feet."
Ford: "Well, the employees are like extended members of my family. I've always believed that. And so, if a member of your family is in trouble, of course you go... But, out of all that it was amazing that -- the way the whole community rallied.... Hundreds of letters I got from people in the community saying, 'How can I help? What can I do'?"
That single event not only won him respect from his workers, but from the Detroit community as well -- a community that his family has long supported in everything from special schools to its football team, the Detroit Lions, owned by Bill Ford's father.
But make no mistake behind the facade of fun and philanthopy, this family is all business. Take Henry Ford II:
Brady: "Your uncle told me once that a Japanese car pulled ahead of him and I think he said he was in a Torino, and he said, 'I just pulled ahead of the guy and I showed him...'!"
Ford: "We'll, you know that competitive nature burns in all of us... We don't like to see anyone pull in front of us, no matter what they're making."
With Bill Ford already hard at work, it can be assumed that he's a chip off the old block -- the Ford block.
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