By Bryce Hoffman
Few of us would ever consider car pioneer Henry Ford to be an idiot. But like all of us, he had his moments. He insisted his Model T car was all that customers would ever need. In the face of growing competition, his engineers thought otherwise.
They began working on a prototype for a new car. Henry Ford destroyed it with a sledgehammer. But eventually the Model A was released and by the late 1920s the company could barely keep up with the pace of demand.
Ford's legacy is immense. But Bryce Hoffman lays bare the tale of the carmaker that by the end of 2008 was close to running out of cash and teetered on the brink of collapse as world financial markets and institutions suffered a tumultuous rout.
His look at Ford leaps forward to 2001, as Bill Ford – Henry's great-grandson – was appointed chief executive of the company. He began his tenure by slashing jobs in the wake of big losses and the fallout from the September 11 terrorist attacks.
In his extensive and in-depth look at Ford, Hoffman examines the tenure of Bill Ford's successor – former Boeing executive Alan Mulally (who was responsible for pumping money into the development of the manufacturer's jinxed Dreamliner aircraft). He was appointed in 2006 as Ford was racking up massive losses and had lost clear strategic direction.
Mulally's appointment was received positively in general, but some insiders feared he lacked the gravitas and ruthlessness that might be necessary to redraw the company, despite his success at Boeing.
And not only did he have to deal with the company's own issues, but also with the Ford family, who through a certain share structure maintained control of 40pc of the vote at the firm, despite owning just 3.7pc of the stock.
But his major breakthrough was winning over the union in order to drive profitable manufacturing in the US. Ford had massive and unsustainable financial obligations towards its retired workers. Once those problems were largely addressed, the aim was to get Americans buying Ford cars again.
Hoffman's book is replete with interesting anecdotes and its appeal probably extends well beyond a business readership hungry for details of how to engineer a turnaround, to anyone interested in the car trade and the inner workings of Ford itself.
That Ford also managed to avoid taking a US government bailout is astounding.
"Ford was not saved because a hero rode into town on a white horse," says Hoffman of Mulally. "But if he had not, Ford would not be here today."
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