Goldsberry, Ronald 1942–
Ronald Goldsberry 1942–
For much of his career Ronald Goldsberry has dreamed of heading his own company, and though high-stakes corporate-finance maneuvers and lucrative job offers have continually thwarted that ambition, the former chemist has achieved some unparalleled successes. Over a period of three decades Goldsberry has progressed from impressive executive posts at a number of Fortune 500 companies to heading Ford Motor Company’s international customer service operations. Goldsberry also chairs the board of a venture-capital firm that provides seed money to launch start-up enterprises. Yet Goldsberry has little time for non-business-related activities as only the second African American to be made vice-president at Ford. “The requirements I have for myself are much higher than what anyone else can put on me,” Goldsberry told Greg Gardner of the Detroit Free Press “Of course I feel that there are some social responsibilities that a nonminority person might not necessarily feel. Like it or not I’ve become a role model”
Goldsberry was born in 1942 and grew up in a less-than-affluent part of Wilmington, Delaware. Like Michigan and its automotive industry, the state of Delaware was dominated by the DuPont Chemical Corporation, and during his childhood Goldsberry became aware that the biggest paychecks in Wilmington were brought home by chemists. The realization fortified his ambitions to pursue a career in science, and Goldsberry excelled in school. He was fifth in his graduating class, but also found time for music-related extracurricular activities: he sang in a gospel group and appeared in opera productions. For college, he journeyed to Wilberforce, Ohio, graduating from the historic black Central State University with his B.S. degree in chemistry in 1964. Afterward, he spent a summer at DuPont as a research chemist, and went on to attend Michigan State University for an advanced degree. He earned a Ph.D. in organic and physical chemistry from that institution in 1969.
For a time, Goldsberry taught chemistry at the University of California at San Jose, and then enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was assigned a position as a research chemist for the National Aeronautics and Space Admin-
At a Glance…
Born Ronald Eugene Goldsberry, September 12, 1942; married; wife’s name, Betty; children: Ryan, Renee. Education: Central State Univ., B.S. (summa cum laude), 1964; Ml State Univ., Ph.D., 1969; Stanford Univ., M.B.A., 1973.
Career: Univ. of CA at San Jose, instructor in chemistry, early 1970s; worked as a consultant for Boston Consulting Group, as dir. for corp. planning operations for Gulf Oil Corp., spent time at Hewlett-Packard before being hired by Occidental Chemical Corp, as vp of business devt. and planning; Parker Chemical Co. (an Occidental subsidiary), Madison Heights, Ml, vp/gen. mgr.; became pres./COO when Parker became subsidiary of Ford Motor Co., 1983; Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, Ml, gen. mgr. of the Plastic Products division for Ford’s Automotive Components Group, 1987-90, exec. dir. of Sales and Serv. Strategies for Ford North American Sales Operations, 1990-91; Customer Service div., gen. sales and marketing magr., 1991-94; vp/gm. mgr. for North America, 1994-96, global vp, 1997—; UNC Ventures (a venture capital firm), chair of board; UNUM Corp., Portland, ME, bd. of dirs. Military service: Served as a captain in the U.S. Army and research chemistfor NASA, early 1970s.
Awards: Excellence in Management Award, Industry Week magazine, 1985; received honorary degree from Central State Univ.,1988; named one of the top 25 black executives in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine, 1988; also made magazine’s 1993 list of top 40 black executives; elected member of National Academy of Engineering, 1993.
Addresses: Office — Ford Motor Company, American Rd., Dearborn, Ml 48121.
istration. At this point, however, his career goals were evolving—Goldsberry knew he had a solid background for any field, but was especially intrigued by high finance. “Being a scientist taught me discipline,” Goldsberry told Black Enterprise’s Derek T. Dingle. “It showed me how to tackle a problem using the scientific method… thinking a problem through and experimenting with ideas.” He dreamed of founding or leading a business enterprise himself.
To fulfill his goals, Goldsberry went back to school once more and earned a master’s degree from the prestigious Stanford University Graduate School of Business in 1973. He entered the corporate world just as its doors were opening for minorities in management, but still encountered long-held prejudices. A white interviewer once confessed to him that the executive considered anything said by a minority said with a degree of suspicion. One of Goldsberry’s first jobs in the private sector was with an leading business consulting firm that worked with Fortune 500 companies to develop business strategies; Goldsberry was their only African-American consultant at the time. He was hired next by the Gulf Oil Corporation as their director for corporate planning operations. Goldsberry’s task was to look for smaller companies for Gulf to purchase, and found he loved the high-stakes, sometimes risky business of corporate buyouts and takeovers.
After a stint with computer giant Hewlett-Packard, Goldsberry was hired by Occidental Chemical Corporation as a vice president for business development and planning. From there he was sent off to the Parker Chemical Company in Madison Heights, Michigan, one of Occidental’s holdings. It opened Goldsberry’s eyes to the financial possibilities within the automobile manufacturing segment of the market. Parker Chemical was a venerable Detroit-area company that decades before had developed an anti-corrosion process for treating the steel used for car exteriors. But when Goldsberry arrived as vice president and general manager, the automobile industry was headed toward a serious slump. By the early 1980s, Parker’s sales were plunging up to 20 percent annually, and he was forced to lay off some of its 650 workers. He also froze salaries and successfully bargained with unions for concessions.
Goldsberry managed to force Parker forward in other ways. He launched programs to improve employee morale and improved the company’s industrial safety record. Yet he still dreamed of heading his own company, and when Occidental put Parker up for sale in 1982, he assembled financing on his own and tried to buy it. He was beat out by one of Detroit’s Big Three car manufacturers—Ford Motor Company. But Ford executives liked Goldsberry’s track record and sharklike attitude, and made him president and chief operating officer of Parker when it became a Ford subsidiary in 1983. For the next four years, Goldsberry regularly put in 100-hour work-weeks as he revamped Parker. He diversified its client base, landed other automobile-related and manufacturing clients, and doubled its sales. At the time, was the only African-American to serve as CEO of an American chemical company.
When Ford tried to sell Parker, Goldsberry again tried to purchase it through a leveraged buyout offer, but again lost out—this time to Germany’s largest privately owned company, the Henkel chemical giant. At this point Goldsberry considered moving on and starting his own company from the ground up, but Ford offered him a position that was hard to reject—general manager of its Plastic Products division for the carmaker’s Automotive Components Group, where he would oversee 7,500 employees. “It was a chance to run a company where the profits were larger than the sales of my previous company,” Goldsberry told Black Enterprise in 1988, after a year on the job. The division, encompassing Ford’s wholly-owned subsidiary firms (as Parker had once been), sold the automobile manufacturer one-third of its plastics needs for car interiors.
In 1990, Ford named Goldsberry executive director of its Sales and Service Strategies for its North American wing. He spent a year there, learning about the crucial ties between the carmakers and its dealers, before being named general sales and marketing manager of its Customer Service division. When he was promoted once again, this time to vice-president and general manager for customer service in North America in 1994, he became only the second African American vice president in company’s history, and the first to head an operations division. In this capacity, Goldsberry was responsible for maintaining and improving profits with the company’s 5000-plus network of dealerships. It was no easy task—in April of 1996, Goldsberry was forced to coordinate a massive recall of 8.7 million vehicles for defective ignition switches. It was the largest such recall in automotive history.
Goldsberry’s success as an executive vaulted him to the next level later that year, when Ford announced he would become global vice president for customer service in 1997. In this capacity, Goldsberry now managed 14,000 employees and Ford’s markets in Asia, Eastern Europe, South America, and other corners of the globe. “People ask me if I will be traveling more than I do now,” Goldsberry said shortly before the transition in an interview with Merlisa Lawrence for Black Enterprise, “but I don’t think that’s humanly possible.” Long hours and leaving the office well after prime time were still common habits for Goldsberry, who is married to an industrial psychologist and is father to two grown children.
In a 1985 Black Enterprise article about high-level African-American executives, Goldsberry told Edmund Newton that there were higher hurdles for minorities at the CEO level. “You have to get away from the stereotype of the top executive as someone who’s at the golf course all day and then sits back in a chauffeur-driven limousine. Those who operate on that basis have a buddy network for getting things done that we don’t have.” Goldsberry lends his time and resources to rectifying that shortcoming—he chairs the board of UNC Ventures, which provides venture capital to minority entrepreneurs.
Black Enterprise, June 1984, p. 193; August 1985, pp. 77-80; February 1988, pp. 96-97; September 1996, p. 54.
Detroit Free Press, January 21, 1994, p. 1E.
Additional information for this profile was provided by Ford Motor Company publicity materials, 1998.
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