Ford meetings once featured conflict, comedy
Edward Lapham is executive editor of Automotive News.
So the excitement at the Ford annual meeting last week was whether 66-year-old CEO Alan Mulally has a timetable for leaving.
He said no.
Big whoop. What did you expect him to say?
Once upon a time you could go to the Ford annual meeting and expect excitement.
Years ago, as financial editor, covering annual meetings was part of my beat. That meant General Motors, Chrysler, Ford and American Motors.
Most of the time the chairman's speech was standard fare, talking about the company's great plans for this new car model or that new market. Sometimes there would be real news, but not often.
For reporters, the question-and-answer period could be the most productive -- especially if you had someone who would ask questions for you about ad spending or something else management felt obliged to tell shareholders but not reporters.
There were always shareholder advocates and gadflies pressing some issue or another that they alone thought was important enough to waste everyone's time discussing.
Evelyn Y. Davis was the queen of gadflies -- part of the comic relief, if you will. She badgered all the CEOs with stupid questions. One year she badgered Ford CEO Henry Ford II for not having a male secretary to answer his phone when she called.
I was there in 1979 when Ford famously assured the world, "There are no crown princes in the Ford Motor Company." His nephew Benson Ford recently had hired infamous lawyer Roy Cohn to pry loose a board seat.
But it didn't happen.
That also was Henry Ford II's last annual meeting as CEO because he stepped down later that year. A year later was his final shareholder meeting as chairman. I was there.
The next day I interviewed Philip Caldwell, the first nonfamily member to run the company.
Eventually I stopped covering annual meetings.
But I did go back to the Ford meeting in 2003 for the company's centennial, with Bill Ford running the show.
No wonder succession plans are interesting.
You can reach Edward Lapham at email@example.com.