After mortality tapped him on the shoulder in the form of his first angina attack in November 1975, Henry Ford II began to think about the question of succession.
Early in 1977, he said he would name a successor by year end and then elevated Philip Caldwell from executive vice president to vice chairman. He also made Caldwell part of a three-man "office of the chief executive" with himself and Ford President Lee Iacocca.
The point was clear: The bland career executive had leapfrogged Iacocca, the flashy former salesman. Even before Iacocca was fired the following summer, Caldwell had begun assembling his management team.
Caldwell was nothing like the flamboyant Ford chairman. He was methodical, cautious and colorless. He was suspicious of the press, didn't drink or smoke and was not a car guy but a product of Harvard Business School.
In short, he was a professional manager in the General Motors mold.
At the company's 1979 annual meeting, Henry made it clear that the company was moving toward the GM business approach. No longer would one have to be named Ford to run the show, he said.
"If any other member of my family achieves a senior position in the company, it will be through merit and by a decision of the board of directors," he said. "There are no crown princes in the Ford Motor Company."
On March 13, 1980, he retired as chairman and handed the reins to Caldwell.
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