Interview with Henry Ford III, January 2014

The phrase "Ford family" can refer to many things -- from loyal customers to employees. But for Henry Ford III the meaning is also literal. He works for the company his great great grandfather started in 1903.

What do you think when you see your family’s name on the building?
I guess as I’ve grown up and matured, my reaction has changed. When I was a kid, I don’t think I fully understood or appreciated the significance of the company. That changed in 2003. I was in Dearborn and we were celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Ford Motor Company, and I remember seeing the passion so many people have for this company. And to know that you’re part of something that’s bigger then you are is really kind of cool.

So do I think of myself as really significant in the company’s history? No not really, I haven’t done that much yet. I do know that I am part of something bigger, and it’s cool and meaningful personally and it has an impact on me. So yes, when I’m driving down the street and I see a Ford dealership or a Ford car, something goes off inside of me and I think its pretty cool.

That’s a very humble answer for a guy with your name.
Well I guess I can credit my parents for that. Growing up my parents never said I had to work at Ford or told me I was special or anything like that. Their attitude was, you need to treat everyone else the way you want be treated.

You’re going to go to work one day like everyone else. Whether that’s at Ford or some place else, you need to work hard and you need to do the best you can. Deep down I always knew I wanted to work at Ford, but there was never a lot of pressure put on me from my parents. I think their words were helpful and important as to how I developed as a person.

Tell us about your family tree?
That’s a good question because a lot of time people are confused how the family tree works. So Henry Ford, our founder, had one son, Edsel Ford. Edsel Ford had four children. His oldest son was named Henry Ford II. Henry Ford II had three children. He named his oldest son Edsel Ford II and that’s my father. So I’m Henry Ford III. We alternate names every generation.

So the chairmen, William Clay, he’s your uncle?
He is my dad’s first cousin, so I think that makes him my first cousin once removed. Henry Ford II’s brother is William Ford Clay Sr. And then his son is William Ford Clay Jr.

Why do you think mustang has lasted 50 years?
I think cars over time become more of a commodity. People look at them as a mechanism to get from point A to point B. Fuel economy, quality, technology are what’s important to customers today. And we’re focused on those things 100%.

Mustang incorporates those basic things, but it goes further. It appeals to people who are still really passionate about cars. When they see a car they think beyond those normal traits and they think about what a car can give them – freedom, independence, or just a good time. Mustang embodies all those qualities. There aren’t many vehicles like that. And I think that’s why Mustang has lasted so long with such brand equity.

How important is the Mustang name to Ford?
I can’t even begin to estimate Mustang’s importance to the company. It's been with us for 50 years now. And when I look back on the history of Ford, and you think of our most iconic vehicles – the Model T, F150 trucks, and the Mustang. In my opinion, those are the top three.

But Mustang’s place in the company is cemented by the fact that it's just so recognizable. You can see one coming down the street blocks away. You can see the taillights and know that’s a Mustang. You can see the side of it and know it’s a Mustang. You can see the grill and know it’s a Mustang. And I think that our designers have done an amazing job of continually evolving that Mustang design, but at the same time keeping true to its heritage. I think that’s really hard to do as a company. And it’s something that not everyone is successful at, but I think that we at Ford have done a fantastic job of keeping true to Mustang’s heritage

What does the name Mustang represent?
Mustang represents performance, but it represents performance that’s obtainable to most. I think one of the smartest things our company did, back in the 60s, was to give one to Carroll Shelby. And, in 1965, he created the Mustang GT350. From that point on, Mustang and performance were connected.

And that gives the car a sense of legitimacy that other cars don’t have. Mustang will always represent performance, but it’s still priced reasonably. There aren’t many cars that you can buy for $55,000 that give you 662 horsepower. There are super cars priced at hundreds of thousands of dollars that can give you that kind of performance, but Mustang is in keeping with Henry Ford’s original vision for the company – provide vehicles that give you amazing performance but that are accessible to most. That is a cool thing about Mustang.

How would you rate the Mustang in the Ford Hall of Fame?
People always ask me, what’s your favorite Ford. I never have a good answer, but I can give you a top five. You have to pay homage to the Model T, because that’s what set the company apart. The F150, in my opinion, is still our company’s bread and butter. So that obviously has its place in the company’s history. I love the Bronco. I’ve always been a Bronco fan. That is a beautiful car and it always will be. And then Mustangs. And then maybe the 1932 V8 for its drag racing legacy. But Mustang has the strongest brand. You can arguably make Mustang the most important vehicle we’ve ever made.

Do you have a Mustang?
I have a 2008 Mustang GT KR. So when we released the 40th anniversary of the KR, I just remember seeing it and thinking to myself, that car is just awesome, I have to have one.

Why does the Mustang brand continue to grow over the last 50 years?
I think the reason it keeps growing is because it has that performance aspect that has been legitimized over its 50-year history. And people recognize it as a performance vehicle, but at the same time, it’s an affordable performance vehicle. I mean it’s not priced like a super car. It’s priced so the everyday consumer can afford. And I think that is a powerful combination. When you can get performance that is affordable, you have winning ingredients.

Mustang has survived a generation shift, how does Ford keep the magic fresh? Honestly, my hat goes off to everyone in the company who has had a role in evolving the Mustang. It’s our engineering team, our designers, our marketing team, it’s product development, it's finance.

Mustang gets put under the microscope more then any other product we build. There is a lot of teamwork that goes into building this vehicle. And I think it’s because of all that teamwork and that one Ford culture, that we continually create a Mustang that is amazing, and that exceeds our costumers’ needs and expectations. And that’s why I think it’s so successful.

What do you think of marketing un Europe?
I think it’s great. Europe and China as well. The Mustang appeals to a lot of different human emotions. It’s the simple things, the fundamental things – you still get great fuel economy, you still get quality and reliability. But then you get the fun factor – performance, and you get the feelings we all get when we drive a convertible or drive a sports car. That enjoyment, that freedom, that release when you forget your troubles and just feel the car, the wind, and the road. Those are the common human emotions that people all over the world feel, and that is why the Mustang will resonate with people all over the world.

Are you a classic car enthusiast?
I would hope I’m a car guy. I love going to car shows. I love racing. I have taken my Mustang out on the track a few times. I wouldn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, call myself a race car driver, even though that’s what I would love to do with my life. But yes, for me cars have always been a part of my life. I have a great appreciation for not only the business side but the human side as well. I love hearing people’s stories about their cars. I love hearing about the connection people have with their cars. I love meeting people who have had a particular car in their life from day one. They owned it for 50 years.

And with Mustang, so many times you meet somebody like that. People who’ve had this car since they were 16 and they’re going to pass it down to their children and grandchildren. Those kinds of stories are really moving because it sort of speaks to so many other things like family, the important connections that we all have.

What do you do at Ford?
I am currently the Lincoln marketing manager for the western US. I’m working on the Lincoln brand and I coordinate a lot of the local experimental marketing strategies. I also coordinate a lot of the customer experience initiatives that we’re launching at all the dealerships right now.

What kind of reaction do you get when people find out you’re Henry Ford III?
(Laughs) I get a lot of reactions. First of all, a lot of people just don’t believe me. They think I’m kidding. A lot of people are taken back at first, and then there are people who just don’t care. Which, frankly, is the reaction I prefer. It’s good when you meet somebody and they don’t care who you are. It keeps me grounded.

What about a cop pulling you over and checking your license?
Actually that did happen to me. I shouldn’t tell the story in case the cop is reading. (Laughs) I was in my Mustang. I peeled out of a stop light. I don’t think I was going that fast, but I peeled out, going no more then 50 or 60, but it was in a 30 mph zone. So the cop was right behind me, pulled me over. He asked for my license, registration. I gave them to him. He didn’t say anything, went back to his car. Meanwhile, I was just sitting there, panicking, thinking what am I going to say to my parents. He then comes back and says, “pop the hood.” So I did that and we chatted about the car. Then he told me to be careful and watch it because the next time he won’t just give me a warning. So I went, slowly, on my merry way.

What would you like to say to everyone who has had a hand in the Mustang legacy over the last 50 years?
I would just say thank you. Thank you to all the enthusiasts who love Mustang. I mean I go to Mustang club meetings all the time, and you meet people who are absolutely die-hard fans. They are so devoted to the car, and so passionate about the car. I love those people. They’re the ones we build Mustang for.

We have so many people like that at Ford and outside of Ford. They’re the ones who really drive us and motivate us. I would thank everyone at Ford who has a hand in this car, I mean the list is so long, you could never thank everybody. Everyone at Flatrock, our design team, engineers, product development, marketing, financing, I mean everyone. There are so many people who have worked on Mustang because Mustang is so important to the company. It gets put under a microscope and I would just want to say thank you to all those people. You have done a fantastic job. The 2015 mustang is beautiful. It’s just another chapter in the history of an American icon. Mustang is an icon and it will always be an icon.

Do you have any story about Henry Ford II?
When I met my grandfather, he was an old man. He had retired but he still had a presence about him. You could tell when he walked into a room that he was a man that commanded attention. Even as a kid, I was 5 or 6 years old at the time, I could feel his strong personality. He was a very passionate leader. He just had that way about him.

You said you had a KR, that’s your daily driver?
My daily driver is a Lincoln MKZ. Lincoln, like Mustang, is a brand that has meaning to it. It has a heritage, a legacy. And with the MKZ we brought back some of that heritage. It’s a beautiful car. And literally, when I drive down the street, people turn their heads because visually it’s a very striking vehicle. The interior is great. It drives great. I’m really excited about the new MKC this year, and the new Navigator. So Lincoln is on its way back to where it has been in the past. It’s exciting to be part of that and it’s something that I take very seriously.

Do you have a favorite car of all time?
I love my Mustang, but I have a 1970 Bronco as well. I also love that car. So I would have to say that Mustang and Bronco are my favorites.

 

 

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