Ben Bidwell died Oct. 14. He spent most of his career at Ford, with some time at Hertz, before ending his career at Chrysler when Lee Iacocca was running the company.
Ben was a unique individual and perhaps the funniest executive in the business. He certainly was a great speechwriter and speech giver. He was a heck of a marketing executive in the days when that meant changing the image of the company and making people want to buy your cars.
Automotive News was lucky enough to have Ben speak at our world congress several times. He always had a serious message yet had everyone rolling in the aisles. But he was never off point.
One of his best speeches at the Automotive News World Congress was called "Life with a 10-day, no-cut contract." He hated the 10-day sales reports that were a staple of the domestic industry; the news media loved them because there was more automotive information to write about.
He did his best to rid the business of those 10-day reports. And somehow the auto industry has survived quite well without them. I don't think anyone misses them.
When Ben departed Ford to go run Hertz, he told of calling his mother to give her the good news. "Mom," he said to his mother, who was in her 80s, "I'm leaving Ford after 25 years to become CEO of the Hertz Corporation." He admitted that his mother's response was "What makes you think you can rent 'em if you can't sell them?" Obviously, he got his wit from his mother. The stories go on and on.
Rumor had it that Ben wrote all of Iacocca's speeches, too, although neither of them admitted it. It wouldn't surprise me. Iacocca always gave great speeches, and I thought I heard a bit of Bidwell in them.
In addition to being witty, Ben Bidwell was one of the best marketing and sales executives in the auto business. To quote one of his successors, Bob Rewey, he knew he was hired to move the iron. There is no more noble cause.
Ben had a great career and set the standard pretty high.
There are plenty of great executives in this business who have wit and wisdom. But no one comes close to Ben Bidwell. He left his indelible mark.