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Henry Ford II's big idea: A pan-European car company
The man who saved his grandfather's company and made it a powerhouse in Europe will enter the European Automotive Hall of Fame in March

Automotive News Europe / December 16, 2002
European Automotive Hall of Fame coverage

Ford of Europe came into being on a June day in 1967. Henry Ford II, who had come to Europe to watch Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt pilot a Ford GT 40 to victory at LeMans a few days before, called a meeting at the Plaza d'Athenee hotel in Paris.

Present were John Andrews, general manager of Ford of Britain; Stanley Gillen, general manager of Ford of Germany; and Walter Hayes, Ford's personal advisor and European public affairs chief.

Ford looked at Andrews and said: "You're going to be in charge. Get it going. There's no sense in worrying about Dearborn. They've got enough on their plate. It's a European operation and I want to see it put together. What we need is a Ford of Europe to knock a few heads together and make things happen."

Chalmers Goyert, a European product planner, noted at the time: "Nobody was going to argue with Henry Ford II, and that was the way Ford of Europe got started."

Indeed, Ford of Europe was the first truly pan-European auto company. Its cross-border organization was a model for other Europe-wide automakers, including General Motors Europe, formed 19 years later.

Ford's achievements in Europe led to his election last month to the European Automotive Hall of Fame by a distinguished panel of voters.

Ford, who died in 1987, will be inducted during ceremonies at a gala dinner at the Hotel InterContinental in Geneva on Tuesday, March 4, 2003. Ford will be inducted that night along with Armand Peugeot, Nuccio Bertone and Heinz Nordhoff.

For two decades following World War II, Ford's European operations had been divided into fiefdoms. Ford's two biggest European units - Ford of Britain and Ford of Germany - competed with each other. Each had its own product development department, and those departments worked on competing versions of similar vehicles - the UK Ford Cortina and German Ford Taunus.

"Germany and Britain were running completely separate companies with their own model lineups," said John Southgate, who was head of public affairs for Ford of Europe and accompanied Henry Ford II on many of his junkets around the Continent.

"Ford of Britain would have its own dealers in Germany if you can believe it," Southgate said. "It was a shocking waste."

Said Bruce Blythe, treasurer of Ford of Europe from 1980-85: "Henry quickly realized that the key to success was not to have all your capital used competing against yourself.

"His biggest accomplishment in Europe was insisting that Ford businesses be rebuilt after the war," said Blythe. "His second major accomplishment was that he was the architect of Ford of Europe as a single company."

Ford loved Europe passionately and never tired of touring the company's factories and dealerships. He studied Europe as few American car executives have.

"Henry understood the importance of European things," said Blythe. Thus he approved racing the Ford GT 40 in that most European of motor races - the 24 Hours of Le Mans. And he grasped the need for products tailored to local markets, and not designed in Detroit.

Ford had been thinking about an integrated Ford of Europe for some time.

"In 1964 and 1965 he took the chair at product committee meetings in England and Germany - often in shirtsleeves - and insisted that Ford in Europe needed common products and a combined effort to satisfy the growing number of European car owners," wrote Hayes in his book Henry, A Life of Henry Ford II.

"People want better products and the best way to do that is to remember there is only one Ford Motor Co., and we don't have the resources to do everything twice over," Ford said.

Ford created an International Operations Committee in Dearborn in 1964. Ford executives in Britain and Germany began spending time in each other's factories and engineering centers, though the two units were still separate.

The creation of a combined entity after 1967 caused trauma in both Cologne and Essex. "It was a very tough time because people were pitchforked out of their certain career structures into the unknown," said David Burgess-Wise, automotive historian. Some people at the product development center in Dunton wept at the sudden upheaval. "Their whole careers, which had been a certain and steady progression, had been thrown into the wind and blown away. But it was one of those things that had to be done, because the organization had got so out of hand," said Burgess-Wise.

The first vehicle that really brought the two teams together was the Ford Transit commercial vehicle in 1965. The Transit showed the two units could work together to produce a product for the whole of Europe. Other successes followed, including the Fiesta.

1948 tour

Henry Ford II laid the groundwork for a European strategy in 1948, when he took a fact-finding tour of the Continent as an inexperienced 29-year-old executive, fresh from winning a power struggle for company control.

Biographer Hayes states that Ford had a moment of truth while cruising back across the Atlantic on an ocean liner following his tour of war-ravaged European cities after World War II. With US Secretary of State George Marshall's eloquent 1948 call for a European Recovery Program echoing in his head, Ford wrote a blueprint for the future. In it Ford stated: "I believe that the policy of the Ford Motor Co. should be to invest dollars in Europe where such an investment is obviously in the interests of the countries and the people involved. I further believe that in the years ahead, the success of the large American manufacturer will be measured equally on the national and international scales. The material rewards can, of course, be great, but of equal importance is the satisfaction of knowing that the Ford organization will be making a real and significant contribution to the general welfare. These two considerations are inseparable."

Henry Ford II grew to love the European lifestyle. He owned a house at the village of Turville near Henley-on-Thames just west of London and another in swank Mayfair. He enjoyed shooting game birds and regularly took large groups of friends on hunting expeditions by coach or private railway car.

He looked forward to visits to England and France because he could travel around anonymously - unlike in America, where he was treated like royalty. He would ride a motor scooter from his Turville Grange estate into Henley.

Ford was a connoisseur of fine wine and could consume two bottles of red wine at a single meal by himself. One of his favorite areas was the Bordeaux region of France, renowned for its fine wines. He became friends with Jacques Chaban-Delmas, long-time mayor of Bordeaux and prime minister of France. Partly as a result of that friendship, Ford built a transmission plant at Bordeaux.

He felt at ease with royalty, and became friends with King Juan Carlos of Spain. Carl Levy, then managing director of Ford of Spain, remembers personally delivering a car to the king every year on orders from Henry Ford II.

Ford's Spanish connection resulted in the construction of the Valencia assembly plant. Ford also built an engine plant there.

Ford got to know business mogul Vehbi Koc, founder of the Koc group empire in Turkey, which led to Ford's big manufacturing presence in Turkey today.

Global perspective

He nurtured an international organization in which it was possible for American executives to spend their entire careers in Europe. And he disdained those who didn't share his global view.

"One of the reasons in my opinion that [Lee] Iacocca never made the grade in Henry's eye was that Henry felt he had no global appreciation," said Levy. "I know he [Iacocca] was uncomfortable in Europe."

When Ford got older and his health began to fail, he took a long, slow goodbye, conducting business in the same deeply personal style.

"He made up his mind he was going to go around Europe and say goodbye to everyone," said Southgate. "He was going to have dinner with the national sales companies, the dealers and their wives. He did that all over Europe. He was determined to personally say goodbye."

Success in Europe gave Henry Ford II the confidence his company could survive in a complex world. And Ford of Europe's operations have continued to exert a powerful influence on the company.

"His insistence on setting up a highly integrated European operation had proved a brilliant success - so much so that the European plants far outshone their American sisters," said the Financial Times of London in its 1987 obituary.

Ford's European successes have continued to be models for the company in the USA. Most top Ford executives since Henry Ford II took over have done tours of duty in Europe. The latest are Nick Scheele and David Thursfield, two executives from Ford of Europe in charge of Ford's turnaround plan in North America

"Henry Ford II understood Ford owed a huge amount to the rest of the world," said industry analyst Garel Rhys. "If it hadn't been for rest of the world, Ford might not have survived as the company it is today."


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