The Ford family is synonymous with automobiles the world over. It is also a rare company that not only controls the company that bears its name into the fourth generation of management, but has members in the fifth generation that hope to continue the tradition.
Elena Ford, a great great granddaughter of Henry Ford, on March 1 will become a vice president of the company, in charge of global marketing. Not bad for being the first female member of the clan to work directly for the company.
Long after the founding families of Firestone, Heinz, Wrigley, Merrill Lynch have sold their companies to others and bailed out of the family business, the Fords have remained engaged, employed and in the highest levels of leadership at the 110-year old company. The company remains 2% owned by the Ford family, but the Fords control 40% of the voting stock, which means they still call the important shots.
Here is a look at the Fords, the first family of the American automobile, famous and infamous, including Elena as she moves up the corporate ladder at the company that puts her last name on every new vehicle.
Henry Ford (1863-1947)
Henry Ford did not invent the automobile as many people seem to believe. What he did do, which transformed the auto industry around the world, was perfect mass production methods to make a reliable car affordable for the masses.
In his early years he was an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company, and had a hand in the electric-light transformation of Detroit. But he was focused in his free time on developing a self-propelled vehicle, and finally perfected a crude one he dubbed the Ford Quadricycle.
Before Henry Ford pioneered the assembly line, automobiles were made by hand by groups of men. They were also expensive, and thus just for the well-heeled. He also pioneered a good solid working day-wage for his laborers -- $5 a day in 1914, about double what his competitors were paying.
Though a dogged innovator, he had a dark side. During World War One, he was a public pacifist. He was also an unabashed anti-semite, both in words and in the pages of Dearborn Independent newspaper he published and distributed through Ford dealerships.
He was also notoriously hard on his senior executives, most of whom developed ulcers. He was perhaps hardest of all on his only son, Edsel, who developed stomach cancer and died at age 49.
Though Henry Ford took capital from investors, such as the Dodge Brothers who had their own automotive firm, he had infamous contempt for investors, calling them "parasites." Ford's big success, on which the company was built, was the Model T, which he started selling for $825.00. When production stopped, he had sold 15,007,034 Model T cars.
He was also a hater of labor unions and approved a campaign of thuggish opposition to put down union organizing led by his head of security, Harry Bennett. His son Edsel was of a different mind and accepted the moves by workers to organize. It created a deeper schism between father and son.
Ford dabbled in election politics and ran for the U.S. Senate in 1918 from Michigan, but was defeated.
Edsel Ford (1893-1943)
Edsel was the only child of Henry and Clara Ford. He married Eleanor Clay, who was a niece in the family that owned the J.L Hudson department store chain. He became President of Ford Motor Co. in 1918. But at age 25 he did not, in fact, have much control over the enterprise as long as his father was around.
Edsel and Henry were different kinds of men from two different generations. Henry hung on to the Model T design long after his senior executives, including his own son, were telling him to modernize the design to compete with rivals that were turning out more stylish vehicles.
Edsel bought the Lincoln Motor Co. in 1922. And in 1927, Edsel spearheaded the design of the Model A to replace the Model T. He also founded the Mercury brand in the company, a business that came to an end in 2011.
Because he was so overshadowed by his Father, who would outlive him by four years, Edsel's impact on the company is often undervalued. Though often made to look foolish by his father in front of subordinates, Edsel was the strongest force inside the company pushing the company's methods, processes and designs into modernity against the force of his father. It's not a reach to say that without Edsel, Ford could well have foundered under Henry Ford, who, by the late 1930s, had devolved into eccentric and sometimes bizarre behaviors and decision-making.
Henry Ford II (1917-1987)
Often referred to as HF2 or "Hank The Deuce," Henry Ford II was the eldest son of Edsel Ford. Two years after the death of his father in 1943 and at the close of World War Two, Henry II became president of the company at age 27, a title he held until 1960.
He had to dive in and take over from his ailing grandfather who had let the company drift after Edsel's death. Ford had been a major defense supplier during the war, but now that veterans were coming home, they needed cars for a country that was rebuilding from war-time sacrifice, following a decade of unemployment and depression. He led the company to public ownership in 1956, a move that surely sent his grandfather spinning in his grave. Ford needed capital, and the public markets were the place to get it. He structured the deal, however, so that the Ford family retained the largest share of voting stock, so that no major decisions needing approval by the board could be done without the family's consent.
Though he proved adept at choosing a brilliant management team from the world of military logistics -- a group that would be called The Whiz Kids -- he is also ultimately responsible for launching the Edsel car and brand at Ford, an homage to his beloved father. But the car, and the whole enterprise, was a terrific flop and cost the company in excess of $300 million. Today, "Edsel" is synonymous with business failure.
Henry II served as chairman and CEO from 1960 to 1979. He clashed with his own President, Lee Iacocca in the easy 1970s over the latter's plan to build sub-compact Fords with Honda engines in order to supply the public with smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles that were in big demand.
A huge personality in Detroit and globally, "Hank The Deuce" was known for living hard--drink, cigars and marrying three times. He died in 1987 at age-70.
William Clay Ford
William C. Ford, known around Detroit these days as simply, "Mr. Ford," is the youngest surviving child of Edsel Ford and Henry Ford's last surviving grandchild.
Early health problems and his youth made it so W.C. Ford lived and worked very much in his brother's shadow. He ran the short-lived Continental division in the 1950s before it folded into the Lincoln brand. And in 1963, he bought a controlling interest in the Detroit Lions, a position he still holds today. He remains much beloved around Detroit despite running one of the most awful franchises in NFL history, not sniffing a championship since 1957.
W.C. Ford married Martha Parke Firestone, cementing one of the great industrial unions as she is the grand-daughter of Harvey Firestone, founder of the tire company, and a close friend of Henry Ford.
He retired from the Ford board in 2005. But he was instrumental in orchestrating the ascent of his son, Bill Ford, to the post of chairman in 1999 and to CEO in 2001. Bill vied for leadership of the family with his cousin Edsel Ford II, but the early death of Edsel's father, Henry Ford II, put him at a disadvantage to Bill and the sway of his father.
Bill Ford today is the chairman of Ford Motor Co. From 2001 to 2006, he served as the company's chief executive.
His time as CEO was not very successful. When Bill Ford took over as CEO at the behest of the Ford family, the company was reeling from a massive recall of Firestone tires on its best selling SUV, the Explorer. The company was losing billions of dollars from the recall, and a serious slide in trust and prestige. The board and Ford family, at the urging of W.C. Ford, installed Bill as CEO.
Unlike his uncle before him, Bill was not a successful judge of executive talent, appointing long-time, but in the end untalented or unsuitable, managers to key positions. The company continued to lose money and market value under his leadership.
But Ford redeemed himself by stepping down in 2006 and recruiting CEO Alan Mulally from Boeing to lead the company back to profitability. Mulally, a process wonk and inspirational leader, ran executives out of the company and promoted a new generation. Ford Motor Co. is back to profitability, and was able to weather the 2008-2010 meltdown of the U.S. auto industry without a tax-payer-assisted bankruptcy, as was the case for both GM and Chrysler.
Bill Ford is known for pushing the company into greener, more fuel efficient vehicles before the company's management really wanted to. One of his lasting decisions was the transformation of the Dearborn River Rouge manufacturing complex built by his great grandfather. When others said it should be shuttered, Ford instead committed well more than a billion dollars to transform it to modern environmental standards.
History will likely be good to Bill Ford as an ultimately successful steward of his great grandfather's company.
No female member of the Ford family has risen as high in the company as Elena Ford, who is the daughter of socialite and author Charlotte Ford and Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos. She is a granddaughter of Henry Ford II.
She currently leads Ford's global marketing group. And starting March 1, 2013, she will become a vice-president of the company, making her one of thirty-eight officers running the company.
Elena Ford has been responsible for marketing, product management and sales support at Ford. Despite her ascent at the company, she is not thought to be future CEO material, though she has expressed her desire to be on the board of directors.
Elena's personal life, like a lot of Fords, has been bumpy. She is twice married and divorced. She has six children. In April 2011, she was charged with drunk driving after her company-issued Ford Explorer jumped a curb and re-entered traffic. She was also charged with child endangerment because one of her children was in the vehicle at the time. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years probation. Her current net-worth is estimated at $125 million.
She continues to live at the Ford family's Gross Pointe Farms Michigan compound of homes. She is also the proud owner of a three story, 131-foot yacht, the hull of which is painted Ford Blue. When told some years back that she couldn't keep it at the local yacht club because of the boat's draft, she personally paid to have the marina dredged to accommodate the vessel.
Like most Ford family members, excluding Bill Ford, she does very few interviews.
Edsel Ford II
Though nine years older than current Ford chairman Bill Ford, Edsel Ford II, oldest son of Henry Ford II, lost out in the competition to lead the family and the car company to his younger cousin.
The two men overlapped in their ascent through Ford, each holding a series of jobs, de rigueur for any Ford who wanted a livelihood in the company and not just a payout of stock dividends. After Bill was named chairman in 1999, Edsel, still a board member, began his withdrawal from official executive posts. He had held senior posts in the company's advertising group and finance division, among others.
Edsel is well-liked around Detroit for his various philanthropic and entrepreneurial pursuits. At Ford, though, he could exhibit bad temper and was ultimately not viewed as a natural leader either inside the company or within the family.
Married and with four sons, though, the next generation of his family seems destined to perhaps lead the company or the family's interests in the automaker one day. His eldest son, Henry Ford III, works inside the company, as does his second son, Calvin.