Henry Ford II

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Henry Ford II

Henry Ford II (1917-1987) was an American industrialist. He turned his grandfather's faltering automobile company into the second largest industrial corporation in the world.

Henry Ford II was born in Detroit, Michigan on September 4, 1917, the grandson of the automobile pioneer Henry Ford. After graduation from the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, in 1936, Henry entered Yale University, where he specialized in sociology, a study that evidently influenced him a great deal. He lacked sufficient credits to graduate but left college anyway in 1940 to marry and begin work at the family firm, the Ford Motor Company.

In 1941 Ford was drafted and became an ensign at the Great Lakes Naval Training School. Meanwhile, conditions at the family firm—which had been losing money under the autocratic control of his grandfather—deteriorated further. A crisis was reached with the death of Ford's father in 1943. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Cabinet deactivated Ford from the Navy so that he could aid in operating the company in its war work. Thus, at the age of 25 Ford was thrown into a situation for which he had little preparation. However, he was able to win his grandfather's confidence and grasp control of the chaotic, nebulous organization.

In September 1945 Henry Ford II became president of the Ford Motor Company and began recruiting an expert management team. By 1949 the company had been revitalized and restructured, and it had produced a new car comparable to the Model T and Model A. During the 1950s the firm moved into second place in automobile sales and became the industry's leader in product innovation. By 1960 Ford was so confident that he began to assume a one-man control reminiscent of that of his grandfather.

However, the younger Ford's individualism was tempered by a strong sense of social responsibility, which he had expressed publicly since his earliest days in business. He served as an alternate delegate to the United Nations under President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 and as chairman of the National Alliance for Businessmen (which sought jobs for the unemployed) under President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. The 1970s saw Ford add the problems of pollution and environmental control to his earlier concerns for labor relations, business ethics, international trade, and civil rights.

Ford retired from his presidency in 1960, although he remained active in the business. He was named chairman of the board and chief executive officer, until he retired from Ford Motor Company in 1979. He died in 1987.

Further Reading

There is no biography of Ford. The best account of his life and early business career is found in Allan Nevins and Frank E. Hill, Ford: Decline and Rebirth, 1933-1962 (1963). Less scholarly but more recent is Booton Herndon, Ford: An Unconventional Biography of the Men and Their Times (1969), which offers many revealing insights into Ford's personality and character. □

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Henry Ford II

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