U.S. Confident Ford assures shareholders
100 Years of Ford
Automaker expected to earn $1.2 billion this year, he says
By Mark Truby / The Detroit News
DEARBORN -- On Ford Motor Co.'s 100th birthday, Chairman and CEO Bill Ford Jr. told 1,500 company shareholders that the automaker is poised to return to prosperity.
"Our revitalization plan is working and we are getting back on track," said Bill Ford, the great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford. "Our goal is to have an even greater impact on people's lives in the next 100 years."
Many shareholders have watched in frustration as Ford's stock fell to a 10-year low earlier this year after the company cut its dividend by two-thirds in 2001. Even so, Monday's meeting -- capping Ford's five-day centennial party in Dearborn -- was more celebratory than contentious.
The meeting was held under tight security at Ford's Conference and Event Center in Dearborn. A well-armed security team was positioned on the roof. Other guards screened attendees at the entrance. Bill Ford alluded to serious security concerns, but declined to be more specific.
Some meeting highlights:
* The company remains on track to earn 70 cents a share this year -- about $1.2 billion, Bill Ford said.
* Vice Chairman Carl Reichardt, 71, who joined Ford in 2001 to oversee Ford Credit and other financial matters, plans to step down from the post sometime in the next year. He has served as a key counselor and adviser to Bill Ford during the turnaround and will remain a Ford director.
* Ford CFO Allan Gilmour said the company has no plans to implement a stock buyback in the near future, but will consider such a move when its financial position improves.
* Shareholders voted down a proposal to create an independent committee to oversee potential conflicts between the Ford family, which holds 40 percent voting rights, and common shareholders. The measure, opposed by Ford's board, won nearly 20 percent of the vote.
The expected clash between Ford management and environmentalists who have been protesting outside the automaker's headquarters was fairly mild.
Although several members of environmental groups criticized Ford for its reliance on gas-guzzling SUVs and other issues, the back-and-forth was cordial.
In fact, Ford's nostalgia-drenched centennial celebration seemed to take the acrimonious edge off the annual meeting.
Retiree is confident
Lorraine Weglarz of Allen Park, who retired in 1991 after 27 years with Ford, said Monday was a day to celebrate Ford.
"I support my company," she said before the meeting. "I have confidence that Bill and the others will do the very best they can."
In rare public comments, William Clay Ford Sr., one of the last living direct links to Henry Ford, spoke movingly at the meeting about his relationship to his larger-than-life grandfather.
Ford Sr., speaking with 50 or so members of the Ford family in the audience, described how Henry Ford taught him to drive at age 12 and took him on his first plane ride in a Ford Tri-Motor -- piloted by Charles Lindbergh.
A longtime director and former executive, Ford Sr., 78, urged shareholders to ignore "the doomsayers on Wall Street."
"This company is very vital and is going to do just fine," he said.
Centennial winds down
Later Monday, the centennial celebration on the grounds surrounding Ford's headquarters finally wound down. More than 225,000 visitors from around the world came to help Ford celebrate the event.
In a year filled with historic 100th birthday celebrations -- including the Wright brothers flight at Kitty Hawk, the founding of Harley Davidson and the birth of Bob Hope -- the Ford bash was a blast.
"Oh we've just had a great time," said Ford retiree Doug DeLorne, who purchased a 2003 Ford diesel pickup just so he could tow his 1940 Ford DeLuxe "woodie" station wagon to Dearborn from his home in Young Harris, Ga.
"We've met old friends and made new ones," said DeLorne. "The people here have been just great."
Ford has been overwhelmed by the success of the event, according to Gary L. Nielsen, executive director of centennial operations.
"We've had cars here from all 50 states, nine Canadian provinces and 12 countries," Nielsen said.
Dearborn profits, too
The tens of thousands of visitors rolling into town have been good news for local businesses, according to Sharlan Douglas, president of the Dearborn Chamber of Commerce.
"All the local motels and hotels were booked solid for this event as much as six weeks ago," Douglas said. "I know the restaurants were hopping over the weekend."
Business was great at the tent selling Ford merchandise, with visitors lined up to purchase Ford souvenirs, including T-shirts, golf shirts, hats, sun visors and sandals.
"What's our best seller?," said cashier Don Wilson.
"Everything," said fellow cashier Angel Kittrell, with a laugh.
There was a long line at a mobile U.S. Post Office trailer as visitors waited to get their Ford "passports" marked with a special stamp.
"This is incredible," said Veronica Johnson, postmaster of the Dearborn post office. "We didn't anticipate this at all."
(Photo) William Clay Ford Jr. talks with his father, William Clay Ford Sr., who urged shareholders to ignore "the doomsayers on Wall Street."
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....