Edsel Ford II was interviewed Thursday, April 9, in his Dearborn, Mich., office by Automotive News Staff Reporter Mary Connelly. What follows is an edited transcript.
What triggered your decision to resign as a Ford Motor Co. employee? Was there a specific event?
No, there wasn't a trigger event. It was more of a self realization that there were lots of things that I wanted to accomplish. Stepping down as president of Ford Credit affords me the opportunity to look to Ford and to look at my many outside activities and do a bit of rebalancing.
When did you start thinking about this?
I have thought about it on and off for a while. It came to fruition talking with friends of mine a couple of months ago. I started putting down on paper what I thought looked like the structure of something new.
I am very lucky that I have a lot of very close male and female friends. I use them as sounding boards. They are very discreet, and I trust them. I bounced this idea off of them. After they got over the shock of me suggesting to them I might no longer be an employee of Ford Motor Co., they viewed it as positive.
Did you talk to your cousin William Clay Ford Jr.?
The one thing Billy and I talked about was the fact that he said, 'The first month people look at you as if you are retired or you have left the company.' He said, 'But then about a month into it, you will come to realize that people look at you and nothing is changed.' If I could, I would fast-forward to that. One of the things that frustrated me is that one of the headlines said Edsel Ford is to leave Ford Motor Co. In point of fact, I am not leaving. I am coming off the rolls, yes. Like Billy did. It affords me a wonderful opportunity to do things at Ford that I couldn't have done in a confined job.
Did this start of your own volition, or was it a case of a family coup or a corporate coup?
This annoys me. Billy and I talked about this last night. This is nothing more than Edsel making a decision that Edsel wants to have a change. I want to take on a different role at Ford. I was the one who came up with the idea.
It was my idea. I presented it to (Ford Chairman) Alex (Trotman). Alex liked it, and I presented it to the board. I went in and I said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I have come to the conclusion that I can serve the employees, the dealers and the other constituencies of Ford Motor Co. better as a nonemployee.'
This was self-propelled, self-motivated. I did this on my own volition.
Do you support your cousin William Clay Ford Jr. as a nonexecutive successor to Chairman Alex Trotman, who retires Dec. 31, 1999?
Clearly, you have to ask these questions, and clearly I am not going to respond. I don't want to speculate on things like that. We have a very close relationship, Bill and I. We talk a lot. But I am not going to tell you about conversations that I have with him because it is not for public consumption.
I don't comment on succession at Ford Motor Co.
What is your appraisal of Jac Nasser, the current president of Ford Automotive Operations?
One of the many great things that Jac Nasser has done as president of FAO is to bring stockholder value to employees. He has been the professor of shareholder value at Ford. He has taken it all the way down. People are going to school to understand shareholder value. Look at what the returns have been at Ford: A-plus.
And your appraisal of Mr. Trotman's stewardship?
You judge a man by the performance of the company he runs. The returns have been phenomenal. Record profits. Share prices at record levels. The split at The Associates went incredibly smoothly.
What do you consider your career successes at Ford?
There is one that always comes to mind, because I am very proud of the longevity of this.
When I was in Ford Division (in the early 1980s) I said to the marketing plans people, 'We ought to do a designer series truck.' They thought I was absolutely a madman. I said, 'Look at all the people who have very successful designer relationships.'
I was part of the group that helped to design the Eddie Bauer model for pickup trucks, and it has been a great success over the years.
I also pride myself on the relationships I have developed with dealers over the years.
But clearly what I have been able to accomplish at Ford Credit has maybe been the most satisfying of all my accomplishments. Taking it to where it is today - the pre-eminent automotive finance company in the world. We have the awards and the data to prove it.
Did you ever want to some day run Ford Motor Co.?
I once did an interview when I was in California. The reporter asked me that question. My father was alive. He called me in California, and he said, 'Edsel, you gave the wrong answer.' Because I said to the reporter, 'Yes, why of course I want to be chairman one day.' He said it in a very fatherly fashion - which my father could do - many people saw a raw side of Henry Ford. I saw the tender side, the father-son relationship which no one could ever see but me.
He said, 'You've just got to learn in life that you have to go day-by-day. You have to take each promotion the way it is given to you. And you have to do the best you can on the job, and the system will reward you. Always. Always.'
What would your father say today?
I don't know. I think about it. I thought about it when I woke up this morning. It is a question that I wouldn't even want to venture a guess at.
He was married to Ford. He told me that, so I know that. He was married to Ford.