Power Is The Prize

“Henry II held all the aces—if he had the insight and nerve to play them.”

Bricker, a useful, honest, and forceful executive much disliked by Bennett and Rausch, could deal with production almost as ably as Bugas could handle labor. It was plain, however, that they needed reinforcement. Henry II wanted more lieutenants and, going over old plant records and talking with veteran workers, concluded that John R. Davis, the regional sales manager on the Pacific Coast, was needed to manage the sales department. But when Henry asked him if he would come back to Dearborn, Davis politely refused. Not only did he like California, but he feared that his old-time enemy, Bennett, might still be strong enough to ruin him. But Henry II insisted. Seeing the root of Davis’ reluctance, he promised that they would fight to victory together or take defeat together. “Put it on this basis,” he said in effect. “If I stay, you stay. If you go, I go. The company and I need you. We shall share the same fate.” Davis came. Then, the struggle still undecided, came the crisis.

Soon after Bugas joined the company, Henry II suddenly learned that some document connected with his grandfather’s will existed which, if valid, would have the effect of placing control of the property in the hands of trustees for ten years after Henry Ford’s death. He was staggered. The document (he did not know it was a codicil) had been kept secret from Edsel’s family. Bennett, he gathered, would dominate the trustees, most of whom would be his friends. In depression and anger, the young man came to Bugas to talk matters over. This, he declared, was the last straw. He was ready to quit the company, sell his stock, and write Ford dealers all over the country advising them to cancel their connection.

“I tried to calm him down,” a magazine writer quotes Bugas as saying. “Finally he agreed not to do anything drastic until I talked to Bennett and found out what it was all about.”

Going to Bennett, Bugas told him that Henry II had learned of the secret alteration of the will. This statement in turn staggered Bennett. He showed great perturbation. After some remark about not wanting young Henry to feel “bothered,” he said: “You come in here tomorrow and we’ll straighten the whole thing out.”

The next day, relates Bugas, a strange scene was enacted in Bennett’s office. Bennett showed Bugas the original typewritten codicil and a carbon copy of it, for as Capizzi states, Bennett had asked the attorney for a second copy. Then Bennett placed the original on the floor and set a match to it. The two men watched it burn. When the flame expired, Bennett swept the ashes into an envelope, which he dramatically handed to Bugas, saying, “Take this back to Henry.”

In due course Capizzi heard from Bennett of the destruction of the codicil and asked for an explanation. “It wasn’t any good anyway,” said Bennett. “Why?” asked Capizzi. “Because,” rejoined Bennett, “Mr. Ford had carried the instrument around in his pocket for a long time and had made a lot of scribblings on it, including verses from the Bible.” He added that Ford, when he added Capizzi’s name as trustee, had misspelled it. The attorney came to the conclusion that Ford had never signed the document. If this was true, Bennett’s theatrical gesture cost him nothing.

The secret existence of so explosive a document, thus revealed, galvanized Henry II, his family, and his company lieutenants into more urgent action. During the summer and fall of 1944 young Ford, Bricker, Bugas, and Davis spent long hours discussing plans for the future and strengthening their position. Henry II and Davis made their before-mentioned July trip to rally the dealers of New England behind the postwar effort, for the production of passenger cars was recommencing. Young Henry’s obvious grasp of company affairs and energetic program for new models impressed everyone. During the autumn Henry II and Davis traveled together to the Atlanta branch, where Henry announced that the company, as part of a $150 million program of expansion, would erect a great parts-depot to supply the Southeast. Davis had shown acumen in rebuilding the field organization of dealers, calling back to service many experienced men.

That winter Henry II and his aides continued their labors. They held their most confidential conferences in a corner of the high-ceilinged Detroit Club, safe from eavesdroppers. Early in 1945 Henry II called R. I. Roberge into his office. All indications pointed to an early end of the war, for the Russians had captured Warsaw and on March 7 American troops crossed the Rhine at Remagen; and he felt that Roberge should give all his time to plans for resumption of export trade and foreign production, while G. J. Crimmins should devote himself to the renegotiation and termination of war contracts. The first outlines of an orderly administration were appearing in company affairs.