Memories of Ford's Ross Roberts

Roberts, as quoted by a former colleague: "Whenever I get into a pissing contest with the media, I come away with my pants leg soaking wet."
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Here is a collection of quotes from and about Ross Roberts, the longtime Ford Motor Co. executive who led Ford Division from 1991 to 1998. Ross died Jan. 28 at the age of 75.

All of the comments are from former members of the automaker's public affairs staff, except as noted:

COMMENTS

I remember a reporter asking him a question at a news conference about declining sales. "Economists tell us we're in a recession," he responded, "but I refuse to participate."

-- Tom Rhoades

At the 1991 Los Angeles Auto Show, Ross unveiled the second generation Ford Escort, followed by a Q&A session with the media. All very serious and perfectly choreographed.

As our allotted time was ending, Ross said, "I'll take one more question." A young reporter in the back of the crowd raised his hand and Ross acknowledged him, "Yes, in the back!"

The reporter said, "Mr. Roberts, what do you REALLY think about this car?" Not missing a beat, Ross replied, "Son, I've gotta sell 100,000 of 'em. I LOVE this car!"

With that, the crowd broke into laughter and applause and headed to the next news conference feeling very good about Ford. Only Ross Roberts could have done that.

-- John Clinard

When our PR team was prepping him for the Ford Division unveiling of the reborn Taurus SHO at the NY auto show, we rolled a tape of Stomp and explained to Ross how we wanted to forgo the usual music and lights and instead have these unshaven guys in jeans and T-shirts beat garbage can lids and other objects as the sheet came off the car.

Ross watched the monitor, then looked at all of us, and then paused. We really didn't know what he was thinking.

Then he said, "Well, I wouldn't pay a quarter or walk across the street to see those fellas… but if you think that's what we should do, then OK."

-- Ed Miller

When Ross thought an auto writer wrote an especially good story or product review, he often took time to send a handwritten letter.

He also recognized that journalists have the last word. "Whenever I get into a pissing contest with the media, I come away with my pants leg soaking wet," he said.

-- Jim Bright

Ross was known to be a truck man and proud of our business in Texas. He was also very much in tune with the retail part of the business and a great supporter of the dealer council system. He was their voice, a champion of their ideas. He had an easy going personality -- he did not get overanxious about anything."

-- Lee Miskowski, who succeeded Ross as head of Lincoln-Mercury

We always hear about factory guys that are ‘really car guys’.  Well, Ross Roberts  was the epitome of that.

He was more helpful than anyone before or since in accepting dealers’ input and building design and price range that the public wanted rather than what the factory wanted.  He truly listened to the dealers and as a result sales reached new highs during his tenure. Surely some of the factory guys making decisions now would do well to spend a weekend reading Ross Roberts history instead of the Golfing Digest.

--Red McCombs, Texas Ford dealer and former Dealer Council chairman  

ROSS ROBERTS QUOTES

One of the reasons I joined Ford Motor Co. was because Ford Motor Co. promoted from within. There was no magic path to success. Every job you had, you had to do the best and then you got promoted.

-- In a 2003 interview, four years after he retired

Once our dealers get momentum, it's hard to stop them.

-- 1993

You always get a greater short-term reaction to cash rebates. But put on $1,000 worth of equipment and add to the residual, and you get a happier customer and the manufacturer spends less money.

-- 1993

I don't know. It's a nice feature.

-- 1996, in response to a question about how Ford missed offering a four-door minivan, a popular Chrysler model.

Taurus was the biggest single catalyst in turning around the automotive industry, period. Three to four years later, every manufacturer in the world was producing a facsimile of the Taurus. They had gone away from the boxy look. The Ford gamble had paid off.

-- 1996, reflecting on the impact of the first Ford Taurus a decade earlier.

We didn't get into leasing by accident. We started the whole process because of owner loyalty. … It's a proven fact that if you can trade your customers out of their car in a shorter cycle they will be happier and more likely to buy another one of your products. We found the way to get to that was on a lease.

-- 1993

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