Power Is The Prize

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  1. a. Discord over handling labor relations (to end).
  2. b. Wibel and his attitude toward Bennett, says Wibel is through.
  3. c. Bennett in full accord with Henry Ford. Henry Ford will support Bennett against every obstacle. Seeing labor leaders.
  4. d. Bennett’s job, no one else.
  5. e. Change relations with Bennett.

When Sorensen saw Edsel next morning he hardly needed to say: “It is evident where Mr. Ford is getting these ideas.” Edsel sadly explained to him the full reason for the recent decree that Wibel should get out. Bennett had demanded that Wibel give a lucrative order to some supplier whom he favored. Wibel had angrily refused and appealed to Edsel as president, and Edsel had ordered Harry to stop his interference with purchasing and stick to personnel and labor relations. Henry Ford’s telephone call was an additional answer to the son’s show of spirit! Agitated almost to the breaking point, Edsel discussed the propriety of resigning and leaving the company. Had he done this, Sorensen would have resigned also, and with Henry II and Benson in the armed services, Bennett would have been left in complete control. Fortunately, Edsel’s forbearance and Sorensen’s willingness to talk bluntly to the father averted the calamity.

As the old man showed a momentary contrition, the manager and the son—almost equally harassed, stricken, and anxious—went their ways, one to a brief vacation in Miami, the other to the hospital. For nearly a year the son had felt that his illness would have a fatal termination. On May 26, at 1:10 in the morning, he died at his home in St. Clair Shores of a complication of ailments: stomach cancer, undulant fever, and a broken heart. Only a week earlier his father had refused to believe the truth about Edsel’s illness. His death sent a wave of sorrow through Dearborn and Detroit, for all who knew Edsel loved him. Henry took it with composure, but Sorensen, who went to the funeral, broke down. He always believed that if Henry had treated his son with wise consideration and affection, he could have had a long life. Bennett, according to his own story, was asked by Henry if he would come to the funeral and replied that he would not be so hypocritical; “I knew,” he adds, “that Edsel had despised me.” But he had the decency to state that Edsel’s departure had left many orphans about the plant. Few coffins have been surrounded by so much bitterness of heart.

What would happen now that the crown prince, so long the center of all hopes for a better regime in the Ford empire, had died before the mentally failing monarch? The presidency had to be filled at once. On May 27, the day before the funeral, Henry telephoned Sorensen that he would take over the position—at nearly eighty, after two strokes! The manager could hardly believe what he heard and, according to his own story, at once told Frank Campsall, Ford’s secretary and one of Bennett’s supporters, that he would give Henry no help in reorganizing the company. He knew that if he did so he would simply implicate himself in putting a sinister group, using a broken figurehead, in control. This declaration frightened Bennett, who drove posthaste to Willow Run to see Sorensen and smoke him out. Was he maneuvering to succeed Edsel as president? Was he, the real binding force in the plant for so many years, trying to bring pressure upon Henry Ford by threatening a disruptive course? Though Sorensen said no, Bennett and his aides still feared him.

And at this critical moment Henry Ford sanctioned still another extraordinary act, the execution of a codicil to his will which was kept secret from the family. Edsel had been anxious to arrange a farsighted plan of management for the Ford properties when he and his father died; wills had been drafted for both in 1936 which, as we shall see later, kept control of the company in the hands of the Ford family by creating a foundation. It appears that one of the company lawyers, Louis Colombo, divining in Henry Ford’s mind an intense dislike for the foundation plan, had advised him against it, with the result that either Henry or Bennett asked him to draw up a counter-scheme. When Edsel died this had not yet been done.

But it was done now. Another lawyer, the capable I. A. Capizzi, was summoned to a meeting in an office at Willow Run. To the best of his recollection some years later, both Bennett and Sorensen were present. Capizzi recalls this because the crucial problem of the presidency was still unsettled, and he noted the strong feeling between Sorensen, who apparently thought he should succeed, and Bennett, obviously opposing Sorensen because this would reduce his power. “At any rate,” runs an approved summary of Capizzi’s recollections, “it was reported to him by Bennett that…Mr. Henry Ford was concerned that Henry Ford II would come too much under the influence of Kanzler in the operation of the company and that therefore Mr. Henry Ford was interested in setting up a means whereby the operation of the company would vest in others until Henry II and the other grandchildren were old enough to manage the company themselves.” Capizzi advised the group that such a purpose could be accomplished by a provision in Henry Ford’s will setting up a board of trustees to operate the company after his death.