Q&A: Petersen fondly recalls presidency
Petersen, 76, served in the Marines in World War II, earned an M.B.A. after the war and joined Ford in 1949 as a product planner. He worked in a number of senior management positions and became a member of the board of directors in 1977. In March 1980, Petersen was named president and COO. He became chairman and CEO in 1985 and retired in March 1990.
While at the helm, Petersen stressed teamwork and strove to end internal politics and fiefdoms.
He spoke with Richard Truett.
What's your favorite Ford vehicle?
The first T-Bird. It was the first truly exciting, winning vehicle Ford put on the road, a huge attention-getter.
But I also have a stealth favorite: the 1965 Fords. They turned back the dreadful tendency to make the Ford car bigger and bigger and bigger. It was the first use of curved side glass by Ford. Bob Alexander was executive engineer at that point, and he had a new concept in the Ford world that body-on-frame construction could result in remarkable smoothness in an automobile.
What was the most memorable thing at Ford in which you played a part?
I guess it would be the process of injecting respect for people and teamwork back into the company. That would be in the years I was president. They were by far the most satisfying for me.
The Taurus put Ford on a roll during the first few years of your leadership.
It was the great validator.
Evidence in the market wasn't overwhelming that people would go for the aerodynamic design. But even big old stodgy Mercedes cars were starting to have some pretty smooth aerodynamic shapes. European designers were very much with it.
Taurus started a process that led the company past GM in profitability and had a lot of to with our full recovery from the doldrums.