Power Is The Prize

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“No,” responded Henry II, “Dad never gave me much information on what was going on.” He had known enough about the company’s position, however, to express uneasiness. “We are O.K. now,” he had remarked, “but what is going to happen after we finish our government contracts?” He stuck stubbornly to his doubts after Gnau tried to reassure him by saying that Ford would have the greatest postwar job in the world in making tractors. “Automobile manufacture is the really important matter,” Henry II had said in effect, “and I do not think we are doing enough development work to get ready for it. You say Gregorie has plans for a new car on the drafting board. Well, you should get on with it.”

And Henry II made one statement of great significance for the future of the company. As Gnau records it: “Henry mentioned the fact that he thought it would be a good idea to bring in a lot of young men. Said we should bring young college graduates into the company for training. We told him we didn’t think a college education was necessary except for a professional man, and if a boy had a good high school education, that was equipment enough for us to develop him. He said most other companies brought in college boys.”

Moving into Edsel’s office on his return, Henry II took over part of his father’s staff, began to master various duties, and learned to put up with Sorensen’s grim patronage and Bennett’s hostility, expressed in an odd combination of cajolery and harassment. He “worked for Sorensen,” he said later, and disliked him and his methods. He kept away from Bennett as much as he could and, like Edsel, detested him. Tramping around the Rouge and Willow Run, cheerful, democratic, and observant, the young man got acquainted with workers, foremen, and superintendents.

One reason why Secretary Knox released him from the Navy was that high government officials hoped that he might put an end to the growing chaos in management, for the discharge of experienced and trusted officials had shocked war-production men in Washington. Another reason lay in the intercession of Ernest Kanzler and other anxious Detroit observers. Young Henry’s logical first move was to become familiar with personnel. Sorensen helped in this, and was also useful in accompanying him to Washington and seeing that he met bankers, industrialists, and such high officers as General “Hap” Arnold. They impressed him; and, writes Sorensen, “wherever this 25-year-old young man went he, too, made an impression—a good one.”

To be sure, Henry II, who despite his evident ability was as mild in manner and as modest as his father, did not at first make an impression of tremendous force; few young men do. But his education—the Detroit University School, Hotchkiss School, and nearly four years at Yale, where he leaned first toward engineering and then to sociology and business administration—had given him breadth of view. Affable and unassuming, he made friends readily. He had a marked capacity for hard work. He was a complete realist—nothing and nobody fooled him—and he had one of Henry Ford’s primary traits: tenacity of purpose. Outside observers who had expected little of him, and Bennett’s inside group with its hopes that he would prove weak, found him growing rapidly in poise and assurance.

No realist could have missed seeing the mismanagement and confusion of the Rouge. Wartime dislocations were unavoidable, but apart from this, much was basically wrong. In the absence of a system for fixing accurate ratios among demand, materials, and working force, some departments were bloated with staff, while others starved; there was a particularly deplorable shortage of expert engineers. The financial statements had latterly been kept from all but a few men, partly because publicizing them would have damaged company prestige and partly because incompetent or dishonest officers knew they might prompt an investigation. One of Bennett’s lieutenants said darkly of the balance sheets: “You never know what someone will do with one of these things.” No proper cost controls existed. “Can you believe it?” Henry II later asked one magazine writer. “In one department they figured their costs by weighing the pile of invoices on a scale.” The production department planned output on a certain projected volume, sales planned its marketing on another, and purchasing bought its materials on still a third. The company might run at one third of its normal volume, and still employ two thirds of its normal work force.

Henry II was equally a realist concerning the high officers of the company. He soon took the measure of them all, and trusted few. Fully aware of the character and designs of Bennett, he knew by personal experience how the service chief could manipulate evidence. He recalled later: “When an important policy matter came up, Bennett would get into his car and disappear for a few hours. Then he’d come back and say, ’I’ve been to see Mr. Ford and he wants us to do it this way.’ I checked at Fair Lane and found out that Bennett hadn’t seen my grandfather on those occasions.” The reminiscences of Sorensen and Bennett for 1943-44 are often so directly contradictory that neither can be given full credence, but Sorensen’s carry much the greater weight, and one of his passages has revealing force. Convinced that Bennett expected to browbeat and thwart Henry II as he had frustrated Edsel, he watched the situation carefully: