Monday, June 26, 2006

A Ford Motor Company Fantasy

William Clay Ford, Jr. sat at the head of the forty foot polished mahogany conference table at Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. Sitting around the table were many of Ford Motor Company's Board of Directors, including Sir John Bond, Stephen Butler, Richard Manoogian, John Thornton, Kimberly Casiano, Ellen Marram, Homer Neal, Irvine Hockaday, Jorma Ollila, Marie-Josee Kravis and Edsel B. Ford II. This was not an official board meeting, so it was unusual that so many members of the board were present. This collection of people was not necessarily automobile heavy-weights. In fact, as is true with many corporations, the Ford Board was filled with people from varied backgrounds, from greeting cards and finance to cell phones and home improvement products. This was the Board that was going to take the car company into the 21st Century. One thing was lucky for certain, William Clay Ford, Jr. thought, was that he was an automobile guy. His whole family was built on automobiles, and he was there to protect the family name as well as a major international corporation.

Richard Parry-Jones, the Chief Technical Officer of Ford Motor Company, sat at the opposite end of the conference room table facing across forty feet of mahogany William Clay Ford, Jr. Parry-Jones was there because the buck stopped with him on all engineering issues, though he seldom got involved with technical issues notwithstanding his title.

"The Ford Five Hundred has been a failure," said Ford.

"It's a beautiful car, Mr. Ford," said Parry-Jones.

"I want to concentrate our engineering and marketing effort on a new Ford Five Hundred like we did with the Taurus. Like Toyota does with the Camry and Honda does with the Accord," said Ford.

"OK," said Parry-Jones.

"The Ford Five Hundred is a big roomy car without being too big. It is nearly a perfect blend of style and comfort," said Ford.

"Yes, I agree. So to describe it as a failure is not accurate," said Parry-Jones.

"It's a failure because it is not exciting. It does not serve the company, it does not serve our dealers, it does not serve our potential customers and it does not serve our nation," said Ford.

"I was not aware we were in the business of serving our nation," said Parry-Jones as he scanned the room for sympathy. Most at the table kept their eyes low, refusing to betray their sympathies.

"I want a Ford Five Hundred to get fifty miles to the gallon in the city, and I want it for model year 2008," said Ford.

"That is not possible, Mr. Ford," said Parry-Jones.

"Excuse me?" said Ford.

"Not even the Toyota Prius gets fifty in the city," said Parry-Jones.

"You’re telling me Ford cannot do better than Toyota? Is that what you are telling me? Because I know that is not what you are telling me,” said Ford.

"OK. OK. SO we can do better. But it would bankrupt us to develop the technology so quickly," said Parry-Jones.

"I don't believe that. And even if true, it hardly matters. We are already bankrupt for all intents and purposes," said Ford. Everyone in the room glanced at Ford when the word bankruptcy was used in the board room.

“Do you propose we do this with hybrid technology or something else?" said Parry-Jones.

“I don’t give a shit how we do it. I want fifty in the city for the Ford Five Hundred. And I want it by 2008,” said Ford.

“Well, sir, may I suggest we pick a more achievable standard, say forty miles per gallon on the highway,” said Parry-Jones.

"Not an option. The Ford Five Hundred will do fifty in the city for model year 2008 with you or without you, Mr. Parry-Jones. That is how this company must now operate. We do not have the option to do anything less than achieving the unachievable. We must make possible what is impossible. We did it at the beginning of World War II. We did it with the space program,” said Ford.

“We had nothing to do with the space program, sir,” said Parry-Jones.

William Clay Ford, Jr. was growing impatient. He anticiupated this resistance.

“So tell me, Mr. Parry-Jones, are you remaining on our payroll or not?" asked Ford.

It felt good to say it. No more bullshitting around. No more fearing the obstacles. It was time to take risks. It was time to move the company and the nation in a new direction. The Ford name was at stake. The company was at stake. And now Ford believed the nation was at stake, possibly humanity. And he was not going to let an engineer tell him something could not be done. The impossible must be made possible. And now. There was no time.

“You’re fired, Mr. Parry-Jones,” said Ford. “Bring in the other engineering executives,” said Ford.

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