Doyle Letson's career took many twists and turns before he became chief interior designer for the Ford Mustang.
The Purdue University industrial design grad didn't enter the auto industry until he was in his late 30s. In between, he designed office furniture, heavy equipment and lots of powerboats, all the while moonlighting as a serious rock 'n' roll musician.
His odyssey has been a result of a series of happy coincidences. Letson, 58, now Ford's director of global interiors, talked about his varied career with Staff Reporter Bradford Wernle.
Q: How did an Indiana-born landlubber end up designing boats?
A: My wife's parents had moved to Sarasota. We were visiting them and drove by this cool boat factory. There was this big cigarette boat there. There was this guy there named Dick Avery. He had retired from Ford and gone to Florida to design boats for Chris-Craft. I said: "Where do you normally get designers from?" He said: "If you want to break into this business, the best thing is to move here." So I went back home for about a month. My wife could see the look on my face. She said: "You want to design boats, don't you?" I said: "I do." We got an apartment and I walked in the door at Donzi Marine, a real famous racing boat company.
What happened there?
I basically walked in the door at Donzi Marine the day after the design director quit. My timing couldn't have been better. I worked at Donzi for about three years. Then I got a call from the engineering director at Wellcraft Marine about two miles down the street. It was a lot more money. Wellcraft was a tremendous opportunity. They had 52 different products: runabouts, fishing boats, family cruisers, motor yachts. I was able to work on all that stuff.
I've been in the car business almost 22 years now and spent 10 years in the boat business.
How do the car and boat businesses differ?
In the 10 years in the boat business, I designed or produced over 60 boats. It's a very, very, very fast business, a very lean business. I dealt directly with the president of the company daily. If a competitor was making money with a product that we didn't have, it was a matter of making a few sketches and we were off and running. There were not a lot of budget discussions. It was really fast-paced stuff.