Jac Nasser and Alex Trotman have reason to give thanks to the Whiz Kids, a cadre of post-World War II leaders who left an indelible stamp on Ford Motor Co.
Indeed, Nasser, Ford president, and Trotman, retired Ford chairman, are legacies of the Whiz Kid era at Ford, says Allan Gilmour, retired Ford vice chairman.
Gilmour, 65, left Ford in 1994; he had joined the company as a Whiz Kid protege. The storied Whiz Kids created one of the most respected financial organizations in American business.
The Whiz Kids were 10 former Army Air Corps officers renowned for developing fiscal controls for Ford and helping to revitalize the company after World War II.
Gilmour discussed the Whiz Kid legacy with Staff Reporter Mary Connelly.
You arrived at Ford in 1960. How well did you know individual members of the Whiz Kids, and which ones?
When I was interviewed in the spring of 1960, I was interviewed by Ed Lundy, who was then the treasurer, and Arjay Miller, who was then the vice president and controller.
Ed Lundy was running the finance/personnel system, as he did for the next 20 years. He interviewed most of the people that came in. Arjay Miller interviewed some of them. So I had a chance to be interviewed by both on one day.
What was that experience like?
I remember being in Ed Lundy's office on the corner of the 11th floor. I remember sitting in the chair. He was on one side of the desk, and I was on the other. I had the impression during the whole meeting that my chin was about the level of the desk. I kept hoisting myself up so I could see. He fired questions, and I stumbled through answers. At the end, he said I was fine.
Was there still a sense of `whiz-kidness' at Ford in 1960?
Henry Ford II hired the nucleus of two important groups that helped him overhaul Ford Motor Co. One was the Whiz Kids. More importantly, he hired Ernest Breech, who was working for a subsidiary of General Motors. Breech was older than the Whiz Kids, and he brought into Ford people from GM and from companies in the supplier industry. Those groups proceeded almost side by side in the overhaul of Ford Motor Co.
Then do the Whiz Kids deserve the credit for saving Ford Motor Co.?
No, they do not. Ernest Breech deserves that label. It is not that the Whiz Kids didn't do a good job. They did. But Breech was really something. He was very capable, very energetic and very hard-charging. The Whiz Kids didn't have responsibility for it all. I don't mean they weren't key to the company. They were, from day one.
Then what do you see as the Whiz Kids' enduring legacy within Ford Motor Co.?
Management by fact. That is what they did in the Air Force. The big thing for the Air Force was knowing where the planes were, where the ammunition was.
This is what they brought to Ford Motor Co.: profit forecasts, production scheduling, sales analysis, pricing, facility analysis. There was not a single production schedule for Ford Motor Co. Purchasing had one. Manufacturing had one. It was not clear when new products were going to be ready for introduction because there was no measuring system in how the engineering process was going.
You are suggesting the contributions of the Whiz Kids were sizable, but that they provided a structural underpinning, and it was Mr. Breech who used that structure?
And Crusoe's contributions are not properly recognized?
I think that is accurate. One of the reasons is that Crusoe was not very good with the press. He knew the business cold. He knew how to get things done.
The Whiz Kids had not been in charge of big numbers of people or big facilities in the Air Force. They had been gathering the facts and organizing the facts for those who were in charge. Crusoe had been in charge, as had Ernest Breech.
Did the Whiz Kids' legacy extend beyond Ford Motor Co.? Was it promulgated throughout American industry as people left Ford and took those financial systems with them?
Yes. That is right exactly. Critics of the Whiz Kids say the Whiz Kids believed people could run anything. They didn't say that. They would say it's advisable to know a heck a lot about the endeavor you are in, whether cars or airplanes or something else.
But they (articulated) the concepts of understanding the process of decision making. What information you need. What the alternatives are. How you measure the outcomes of various alternatives in advance.
When I visit other companies, the biggest thing that I see that is different from the Ford financial system is that Ford pays attention to the future. Too many companies pay attention to the past. How did I do last year? Or last quarter?
Which Whiz Kids did you work with?
Arjay Miller, who was vice president and controller, and Ed Lundy, who was treasurer. I worked in a direct line for them. I was a long way down from them. But they were two who didn't follow the organization chart. If they wanted to talk to me or whomever about a specific area, they would talk to us.
Can you recall an incident where they actually did that?
In the spring of 1961, I was responsible for the coordination of the monthly financial review, which went to the board of the directors and the internal policy committee. The person who presented most of that was Ed Lundy, and I worked directly with him.
Lundy had participatory management long before there was such a cliche phrase. On many issues he would say, `Let's discuss so and so, and bring the people who are involved.' Most of the time we would sit there and shut up while the grown-ups talked. But he was perfectly willing to turn to the most junior person in the room and say, `What do you think?'
What vestiges of the Whiz Kids remain today at Ford?
Objective decision making. Fact-based decision making. Financial information. And a focus on a good personnel management system from recruiting, developing, promoting and rewarding.
The weakest function in American business is human relations. The good companies make personnel a strategy. That was an Ed Lundy/Arjay Miller legacy. They were doing it here. They were thinking about that long before most companies were.
Ed Lundy gave plenty of pay increases to people who were far below him in the organization chart, person-to-person. When it was time for a pay increase or a bonus, he would call people in and do it himself. He also used personal notes and personal calls.
Any other legacies?
Jac Nasser, (Ford president), is a very good example of the finance personnel system at Ford. Jac Nasser started in Australia as a financial analyst. In most companies, he would still be there. But the Ford personnel system was worldwide, and in several years he was transferred to world headquarters to see what kind of work he could do. And it was clear he could do very good work.
That is part of the Whiz Kids legacy?
Yes. Here is another. (Former Ford Chairman) Alex Trotman was part of a small office that Lee Iacocca had set up. When Lee Iacocca involuntarily left Ford, some people thought, 'We have to get rid of all those people who worked for him.' Ed Lundy personally was involved in placing two of them so they weren't forced to leave. One was Alex Trotman.