Rumors had been in the wind for years. More and more, it was Robert S. McNamara rather than Ernest Breech who had Henry Ford II's ear.
More and more, Hank the Deuce countermanded Breech's orders and upstaged him at meetings, most famously at a senior management retreat at the Greenbriar in West Virginia in 1958 when he followed Breech's remarks with his own - and significantly different - vision for the company's future, a vision he had discussed with his board chairman in advance. "I am the captain of the ship," he concluded, "and I intend to remain captain as long as my name is on the bow."
Henry Ford II even took away Breech's Detroit Lions tickets. The tandem that had steered Ford Motor Co.'s reinvention as a modern corporation was coming apart, and only one of the men was named Ford. On July 13, 1960, the one who wasn't resigned.
Henry II had been 28 and president for less than a year when he had hounded Breech, 21 years his senior, into coming to work for him. But that was 14 years earlier, and he was finding the relationship increasingly irritating, especially after Breech was elevated from executive vice president to board chairman in 1955. That meant it was Breech, not Henry, who acted as company spokesman at the shareholders' annual meeting.
'Almost a father'
Henry Ford II toppled the man he later described to one Ford chronicler as "almost a father" to him - the man who, it was generally understood, had run the company, even as he schooled Henry II in how to do it himself. "My job was to teach Henry," Breech said, "and he was a good learner."
The degree of sensitivity with which the deed was done - and even the question of whether Breech fell on his sword - continues to be debated by historians. The company line always has been that Henry II ended the suspense one day by saying, "Ernie, I've graduated."
Others say Hank the Deuce couldn't bring himself to do it, and it was Breech who said: "Henry, now you've come of age. You want to take over, and I want to step aside."
Henry was The Man
In any event, Henry Ford II was ready. The story about Breech's exit on the front page of Automotive News noted that his departure was "unexpected" and was generally upbeat. It focused on his achievements and his continuing role with the company. The finance committee was invented largely to give Breech its chairmanship. But it also was clear that Hank the Deuce was now The Man - president and chairman.
He held both jobs for less than four months before naming McNamara president, but the latter was in office even more briefly before becoming secretary of defense for President John Kennedy.
Flummoxed by this turn of events, Henry II tried to lure back his old mentor. Breech politely declined, saying he was happily retired. A few weeks later, he joined Trans World Airlines.