I learned with a certain amount of sadness last week that Edsel B. Ford II is going to leave Ford Motor Co. as an employee. He will remain a member of the board of directors and will probably be come more involved in board activity with committee assignments. And, yes, his very bright niece Eleana is still a company employee.
But it simply isn't the same. Bill Ford Jr. left the company in 1995 to concentrate on personal activities that include his strong interest in the Detroit Lions, so Edsel's departure is not completely unexpected.
But it's still perhaps the end of an era. All the time I have been alive, a Ford family member has been in a high position at Ford. Edsel's father, Henry II, played such a strong role, and Edsel has been running the most profitable part, Ford Credit, since 1991. So it just won't seem the same.
Anyone who has seen Edsel in any situation - whether it was with Ford employees or Ford dealers - was aware that he has a certain magic. And what, for me, was probably most important, Edsel truly enjoys spending time with Ford, Lincoln and Mercury dealers around the world. And they enjoy spending time with him.
Edsel has attended hundreds of company functions, and he is always the center of attention, mainly because he enjoys being there; it's not a chore for him.
I was pleased to see that he will head the committee that is planning the celebration of Ford Motor Co.'s 100th anniversary in 2003. It seems fitting.
I hope that Ford Motor Co. and its directors realize that they have a great asset in Edsel Ford, and that they will continue that relationship. No one at Ford draws a crowd like Edsel at Ford activities at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention, for example. And the same is true at other events.
After all these years, it will seem strange not to have a Ford family member in management. But as in a lot of other automotive family businesses, perhaps the time had come, at least for the moment.
Edsel plans to spend a lot more time with many of the nonprofit organizations that he has become so involved with during the last few years. It would seem to be a perfectly appropriate role for him.
I hope that Ford Motor Co. and its directors will continue to take advantage of Edsel Ford's special skills. He represents the company in a very special way. And I hope that the automobile industry will continue to see him play an important role in Ford Motor Co., whether he's inside or outside the company.