Power Is The Prize

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Administrative confusion became worse after Henry’s second stroke in 1943, and the areas of administrative vacuum more numerous. Ford had always been reluctant to define spheres of authority and had often delighted in issuing contradictory orders; now his capriciousness made the managerial process a turmoil of uncertainties, fears, and crosspurposes. Sometimes even Ray Dahlinger, manager of Ford’s farms, would issue orders to executives: “Mr. Ford told me to tell you.” This was a far cry from the early days of the company with its printed admonition: “Verbal orders don’t go.”

Often it was impossible to verify a secondhand directive, for Ford was hard to find, seldom entering his two offices and poking about wherever the fancy took him. Once run down, he would often break off any question with an impatient “That’s all been decided—don’t bother me about it.” For self-protection his executives banded together in little clusters of power, which watched each other jealously and engaged in covert warfare. Charles Martindale relates that a little later, in 1945, a young man was set to drafting an organization chart for the company. He found the task impossible. “He’d bring it to me with tears in his eyes,” states Martindale, “and gave up because there was no way of knowing who reported to whom.”

This chaos was to the advantage of Bennett, for as no definite boundaries contained his drive to power, timid men turned to him for protection. Furthermore, as guardian and shaper of Ford’s isolation, he could determine the form of what small resources of leadership the old man still had to give the executives. Bennett was still outside the “round table” group that lunched with Henry in the executive dining room in the engineering building; but as he saw Ford constantly, he could impose his will on the chief better than this luncheon cabinet could. He was ready by 1939 to engage even the once all-powerful Sorensen. Fred L. Black informs us that during this year he heard Sorensen begin to tell Ford something that Bennett was doing of which Sorensen strongly disapproved. “Mr. Ford, with an ice-cold tone in his voice and steely look, said, ‘What is the matter, is he stepping on your toes?’ ”

Ray R. Rausch was high in production at the Rouge, and though Sorensen speaks well of him in his memoirs, the universal impression was that he stood with Bennett, helped Bennett plant his men throughout the factory, and was ready to act against Sorensen in promoting Bennett’s ambitions. Among Bennett’s most regular luncheon guests in his private dining room were Rausch and Russel Gnau, Sorensen’s personal secretary. Gnau also had moved so far into the Bennett camp that practically everybody in the upper ranks believed that he was working to undermine Sorensen—everybody with the exception of the overworked Sorensen himself.

Bennett was also ready to drop into Henry’s mind insinuations derogatory to Edsel’s ideas and attitudes. Another veteran executive recalls that once, riding with Edsel after a humiliating dispute over policy, the tortured son dropped his usually perfect self-control. “The hurtful thing about all this,” Edsel burst out, obviously fighting his tears, “is that Father takes Harry’s word for all this and he won’t believe mine. Who is this guy anyway? Where did he come from? He is nothing but a gob.…” Sorensen states that relations between Edsel and Henry were now strained “almost to the breaking point.” One self-respecting executive after another had left the company in disgust or, like the able purchasing agent Fred Diehl, had been forced out, until only the thinnest middle echelon existed between ownership at the top and technicians below.

When promising men rose at the Rouge they were all too likely to make a rough exit. Bennett tells a callous story about the way in which William C. Cowling, a veteran in the company and sales manager for almost seven years, was pushed into the street late in 1937. Ford executives were permitted to get their cars reconditioned in the factory at moderate cost, and Cowling brought his in. Bennett (acting on Ford’s instructions, he states, but it is impossible to say who was prime mover in such matters) kept precise track of the time spent on the car, and added charges for the time that he and Henry spent overseeing the job. “When the car was finished, we sent Cowling an enormous bill.” The sales manager promptly notified Bennett, “You can keep the car,” sold an unfinished house he was building, and after a further prod, left, taking with him his long years’ experience. His successor, John R. Davis, was transferred to California because he discharged a Bennett favorite.

Beginning in the autumn of 1940, production first for defense and then for war absorbed much of Edsel’s and Sorensen’s energies. While Henry was at first lukewarm or obstructive, they believed wholeheartedly in aiding the vast international effort; Sorensen regarded it as the greatest challenge of his life, and Edsel’s enthusiasm heightened the already great respect that onlookers had for the younger man. As the Willow Run bomber plant got under way, it required all Sorensen’s drive to meet government schedules, and Edsel supported him as his failing health permitted.