Some people thought it was a joke. Others figured it was a sales gimmick. But the person behind the name tag was the real deal.
The salesman on the floor at Galpin Ford in suburban Los Angeles was Henry Ford III, the great-great-grandson of the founder of Ford Motor Co.
Henry III, 29, is the son of Edsel Ford II and the grandson of Henry Ford II. He's determined to make his career at the automaker that still bears the family name.
Young Ford is on educational leave from Ford Motor and is pursuing an MBA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This summer he decided to work in sunny California at Galpin, the largest-selling Ford dealership in the nation for the past 19 years.
He arrived at Galpin on June 1. On July 31, Ford's last day on the job, he spoke with Staff Reporter Kathy Jackson.
Why did you decide to work at a dealership?
I had been at Ford for two years before starting school. I worked in labor affairs and purchasing. I wanted experience on the retail side -- understanding what the customer experience is like, what questions they have, what they look for in products.
What did you learn?
People are impressed with our product, but you have to sell yourself, too. If you can get them to bond with you first, then you can get them into the product.
Did people know it was you?
I had a badge. Some customers really didn't believe I was Henry Ford. They didn't expect the great-great-grandson of Henry Ford to be selling cars in California. That's a conversation-starter right there. A lot of people said they thought I'd be a jerk -- arrogant. But I like talking to people.
What did you do at Galpin?
The first thing was to go through the Galpin sales training program for about a week and a half. Then I sold cars for two weeks.
Did you close any deals?
I sold six cars -- a Focus, two Edges, an Escape, Flex and a Volvo.
You worked at Galpin Volvo, too?
At Galpin the salespeople are allowed to cross-sell at his other stores (Lincoln-Mercury, Volvo, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Honda and Saturn.) But I tried to steer customers away from Honda and Saturn [laughs].
What else did you do?
Finance, marketing, used cars, the business office and service. I wanted to get the whole picture of what it takes to run a dealership. I wanted to see it from a consumer and dealer perspective.
Did you find one department more challenging or interesting than the others?
They all were important, but it would have taken more time than I had to learn F&I. I did sit in on F&I deals.
Why did you pick California?
I specifically wanted to come here because it's an area where we've been hit the hardest. I wanted a challenge, and I wanted to get a sense of the customer here. There's definitely a push toward smaller, more fuel-efficient cars in California. And we've got that: Focus, Fusion and Fusion Hybrid, Escape and Escape Hybrid.
What kind of customer comes to Galpin Ford?
About one-half Ford owners and one-half other brands, including the imports. Ford had a perception problem, but people now say they like Ford because we didn't take any government money. It comes up a lot.
What can you take back to Detroit?
The value of listening to the various stakeholders in the business -- really listening. Galpin really focuses on the customer. They want to make sure the customers have a good experience. The customer will tell you a lot. What they like, don't like. I think Ford is now listening.
What do you think about cash for clunkers?
It's been a good program. At the end of the day, it's good for consumers. It's a way to get them into more fuel-efficient cars.
What's your ultimate goal at Ford -- to be the CEO?
[Laughs] I enjoy the learning process. There are so many key areas of the business. I'd also like to get into manufacturing, finance -- just about everything.
Would you like to own a dealership?
I don't know. It's a challenging business. I had a wonderful experience this summer. Going in, I knew I would learn a lot. My expectations were exceeded beyond my initial thoughts. But my goal is to be right there at Ford Motor Co.
Did Galpin pay you or did Ford?
I got paid straight commission, like everyone else.