Power Is The Prize

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The event inspired Fortune to publish an article on “The Ford Heritage,” which, while not fully informed, showed how most people interpreted it, and sounded an ominous note. Detroit was full of rumors, it stated, that Henry Ford was waiting to see how much ability his grandchildren showed, and if they flashed in the pan, “he intends to leave his voting shares in a trust, and one of the trustees will be Harry Bennett.” The writer had somehow smelled out the codicil! A column in one issue of Iron Age expressed the view that Bennett would become actual operating head of the Ford works and all outlying activities at home and abroad.

Using these cards Bennett expected to enlarge his authority rapidly after Sorensen’s ouster. Henry II, he believed, might prove weak enough to drift under his tutelage. He told the press that the two of them could soon fill the gaps left by Wibel, Sheldrick, and Sorensen. “There are a lot of geniuses around here, and I hope Henry Ford II will learn to back them as his grandfather did.”

Ominous, too, was the celerity with which, as soon as Sorensen left for the Florida vacation which became resignation, Raymond R. Rausch moved into the production chief’s vacant office. This tall, bulky, balding executive of fifty, his looks attesting to his shrewd, stolid Dutch ancestry, took over Sorensen’s work at the Rouge, with attention not only to Ford vehicles but to the tank division and the Lincoln division. He had tucked himself under the elbow of power, and close company observers wondered that Sorensen, before his ouster, had been so naiïvely unconscious of Rausch’s unfriendly activities.

While Bennett clutched a strong poker hand, Henry II held all the aces—if he had the insight and nerve to play them. “I didn’t know how secure I was,” he said later, but he commanded half a dozen elements of potential strength. For one, from the moment he was elected a vice president in December, 1943, a great many employees in the lower echelons of the company’s management regarded him as the imminent head. Did not his name give him a prescriptive right to the presidency? For another, war-production leaders in Washington had learned from Sorensen and from Kanzler, now in the War Production Board, to look to young Henry, and to the extent that he proved capable, they would give him firm support in directing the plant’s war work. In Bennett they had no faith whatever. As a third element of strength, young Henry’s grandmother, Clara, his mother, Eleanor, and his brothers, Benson and William Clay, stood united behind his leadership. Clara, who as Sorensen surmised had now seized the reins from the nerveless grasp of old Henry Ford, had not only an inflexible hostility toward Bennett, but a fiery pertinacity when aroused in defense of family interests; Eleanor, a brilliant woman, had seen her husband so cruelly maltreated that she was resolved to fight to the last for her sons. The two women were one—and they controlled large blocks of voting stock.

Most important of all, Henry II had his own abilities and fighting temper. Backed by his mother and grandmother, he began to do something about the situation. His power was enlarged when on April 10, 1944, the board appointed him executive vice president, the post next in rank to the presidency.

His triple task was to establish correct policies, eliminate the vicious elements in the administrative system, and find capable, honest aides: three interconnected objectives. Time pressed; June would bring D-Day in Normandy and the capture of Saipan in the Pacific, and it was clear the company would soon face the multiform tasks of peace.

Since Henry II knew in general outline what policies he must pursue, the first step was to bring to his side aides of ability and insight. By good fortune two executives of ripe experience were at hand: Mead Bricker, who ran the Willow Run bomber plant, and his assistant, Logan Miller; a third helper, John S. Bugas, was given him by some curious circumstance; and a fourth, John R. Davis, he added by his own exertions.

The appointment of Bugas, a man of the highest character, had elements of mystery. This energetic graduate of the University of Wyoming had practiced law in Cheyenne, joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation, served J. Edgar Hoover in Alaska and the South, and finally, at thirty, taken over the FBI in Detroit in 1938. His investigations uncovered thefts and other malpractices in the war work of Willow Run and the Rouge. Much may be read into Bennett’s own explanation of the appointment. He writes: “Bugas had been Edsel’s prime source of information, and after Edsel died, Henry II kept up his father’s relationship with Bugas. Bugas was a source of irritation to both Mr. Ford and myself. Finally I decided that the best way to cope with him was to hire him into the plant.” At any rate, soon after Henry II came to the Rouge, Bennett hired Bugas to help deal with industrial relations—that is, labor. Once Bennett had him on the payroll he tried to neutralize him. “I was as isolated as a tuberculosis germ,” Bugas said later. But to Bennett’s discomfiture, the newcomer quickly became one of the best aides of Henry II—alert, progressive, right-minded.