Walter Hayes was remembered last week as a gifted communicator who won reporters' respect and earned Henry Ford II's trust.
Hayes, a longtime Ford Motor Co. public relations executive and former chairman of Ford's upscale sports car subsidiary, Aston Martin, died Tuesday, Dec. 26, at his home in England after battling lung cancer for several months. He was 76.
Bert Serre, a former journalist who was Ford's director of public relations in Australia in the early 1980s, when Hayes was Ford's chief of global public relations, said Hayes had an 'outstanding reputation' among automotive journalists. He made sure reporters had access to senior Ford executives worldwide and helped the company to establish a global reputation for truthfulness.
'The senior management of Ford listened very carefully to the advice and counsel they got from people like Walter Hayes,' Serre said. 'The trust they had in him was manifested in the dealings they had with him and the media.'
John Roberts, another former Ford public relations executive who worked for Hayes in the 1980s, said Hayes' communication sense was born of his experience as a newspaper editor before joining Ford. His expertise quickly carried him up Ford's corporate ladder. He was named a vice president within a year of his arrival in 1961.
Roberts called Hayes' media expertise his greatest contribution to Ford. But he and Serre said Hayes also was instrumental in Ford's decision to return to motorsports, which was key to Ford of Europe's growth in the 1960s and 1970s.
'That was Walter Hayes' legacy,' Roberts said.
It's a legacy that flowed from Hayes' close relationship with Henry Ford II. It was Hayes who convinced Henry Ford II to put the company back into racing in the United States in 1980 after an 11-year absence. Hayes' biography of Ford, A Life of Henry Ford II, was published in 1990.
Hayes joined Ford of Britain in 1961 as director of public relations after a journalism career that saw him rise to editor of London's Daily Mail newspaper by age 32. He helped engineer a turnaround of Ford of Europe and was a driving force behind Ford's decision to enter Formula One racing in 1967 with the Cosworth V-8 engine.
In 1969, Hayes was named vice president of public affairs for Ford of Europe. Ten years later, he came to the United States to serve as head of Ford public relations worldwide. In 1984, he returned to Europe as vice chairman of Ford of Europe.
Hayes retired from Ford in 1989, but when the automaker bought Aston Martin in 1990, Hayes was tapped to be chairman. He breathed life back into the struggling car company by creating the DB7.