Of the scores of automakers that came to be during the infancy of this industry, only two American companies remain: General Motors and Ford Motor Co. Survival is no small feat. Ford richly deserves the celebration that accompanies its centennial today.
But when the ceremonies end, Ford still will be in deep trouble. Its recovery plan, now nearly 18 months old, has been jeopardized by the relentlessly unforgiving U.S. marketplace. Costly sales incentives have climbed, and a promised wave of new vehicles can't get here soon enough.
It is little comfort to say that Ford has been here before. Yes, the troubles after World War II and in the early 1980s were staggering. But the fixes then were relatively simple. The financial discipline brought by the Whiz Kids more than 50 years ago remained a hallmark of the company for decades. The 1980s mess was solved by shutting plants, getting serious about quality and creating products such as the Taurus.
Strong leadership marked both of those comebacks. Henry Ford II - though young and inexperienced - was smart enough to tap an outsider, GM's Ernie Breech, for help. Philip Caldwell - cold and colorless - was also a consummate businesssman who made the tough calls in 1980 and later.
In contrast, Bill Ford freely admits he's in a job that he never sought. A story in the latest Newsweek quotes him as saying he feels caught in an "enormously grinding" job and burdened by his loss of privacy and time spent away from family and hobbies. "I sometimes hit overload. I just don't know how much more I can handle."
One can't help but watch Bill Ford wrestle with his challenges and reflect on the apparent ease with which Carlos Ghosn deals with his. It's also fair to note that Bill Ford was called to his job with far less experience than his peers who are running challenged auto companies.
Bill Ford needn't try to be someone else. He needs to find his own formula and pour all the energy he can into fixing the company founded by his great-grandfather.
If he allows his reflections to be aired publicly, so be it. But the real issue is whether his private burdens are keeping him from being the 100 percent committed CEO he professes to be.
If the answer is no, let the recovery plan continue. If it is yes, Bill Ford needs to be equally honest with himself and, at age 46, add a succession strategy to his things-to-do list.
Ford Motor Co. is far too critical to this country to have anything but a fully engaged CEO.