CHICAGO -- Donald Frey, former Bell & Howell chairman and one of the engineers who helped design the iconic Ford Mustang, died March 5 of a massive stroke at Evanston Hospital in suburban Chicago. He was 87.
Frey, who would later teach at Northwestern University, had a long career of innovation in industry. He received the National Medal of Technology from President George H. W. Bush in 1990.
Frey was chief engineer and an assistant general manager of the Ford division when the Mustang was introduced. He worked for the legendary Lee Iacocca, who took much of the credit for the car.
"A few of us at Ford were sitting around one day in the early 1960s and thought it would be a good idea to produce a small, sporty car that would appeal to a mass market," Frey once told a reporter. "We were a bunch of young guys in our 30s and early 40s then."
Frey and his cohorts had a hard time selling Henry Ford II on the idea.
"The company was just getting over the Edsel flop and really didn't want to gamble on another new model," Frey said. So development funds for the Mustang were taken from excess money buried in the budget.
Years later, Frey said that it had taken five tries to persuade Mr. Ford to go along with the project. "On the fifth try, he said to me, 'I'm going to approve your Mustang, and it's your ass if it doesn't sell.' "
Sell it did, of course. Instead of an estimated 86,000 that first year, 400,000 cars were sold. The Mustang is still in production today.
Ford Motor Co. issued a statement late Tuesday honoring Frey's work with the company. It read:
"Don was an outstanding engineer with a keen eye for innovation and creativity. While often remembered for his work on the original Mustang, he also made valuable contributions to Ford's success as general manager of the Ford Division and vice president of Product Development. We at Ford extend our deepest sympathies to his family."
Frey was born in St. Louis and earned his doctorate in metallurgical engineering at the University of Michigan, where he had also earned his bachelor's and master's degrees.
After he left Ford in 1968, he was president and chief operating officer of General Cable Co. in New York.
Video pioneer, too
Later, as CEO of Chicago-based manufacturer Bell & Howell Co., he helped engineer the first CD-ROM. He also became a key player in getting Hollywood to release its films on videotape, thus creating the home-video entertainment industry.
Through his position on the board of 20th Century Fox, he secured permission for Bell & Howell to duplicate five movies onto videotape from the film masters, according to Innovation magazine.
Frey retired from Bell & Howell in 1988 and went on to teach at Northwestern.
"I don't care if you're building chairs, automobiles or schools," he told students -- the most important part of business is knowing your audience, according to Innovation's 1997 profile.
Frey was married to longtime Chicago society columnist Mary Cameron Frey from 1971 to 1989. His survivors include five children and a number of grandchildren.