DEARBORN - The east lobby of the Ford’s world headquarters was packed Tuesday morning with throngs of employees ready to celebrate what would have been Henry Ford’s 150th birthday.
Oversized photos of Henry Ford and special mementos/artifacts from his lifetime created the frame for the space as hundreds of employees dressed in Blue Oval blue filled the room.
The feelings of pride and excitement were clear as Executive Chairman Bill Ford, great-grandson of Henry Ford, addressed the crowd. “This is a very cool day. Probably second only to the day we got the Blue Oval back,” Ford said as the audience responded with applause.
“It’s pretty amazing when a company can trace itself back to its founder and it’s even more amazing when that founder is still relevant 150 years later.”
Ford went on to explain the importance of family not only in leadership roles, but also in the family atmosphere that is felt by those working for the company.
“We’ve had unbroken family involvement in the company since my great-grandfather, but also so many of you are members of a multi-generational family who have worked here and I think that makes us very unique,” said Ford.
According to Ford, the two characteristics of his great-grandfather that he values most are the belief that people should come before profits, and, his tireless dedication to constant innovation.
Ford went on to share several stories about his great-grandfather. Those in attendance chuckled when he recounted the story of how Henry Ford decided to teach his grandson, William Clay Ford, Sr. – Bill Ford’s father, how to drive when he was only 12 years old. Apparently the pair were on their way to take in a movie and on the way home a police officer caught on to their shenanigans. He didn’t pull the duo over however, instead he headed straight to the Ford home to tell Clara Ford, the pre-teens’ grandmother. Henry Ford senior resumed his position in the driver’s seat before cruising up the driveway, but they knew their cover had already been blown when they noticed an anxious Clara outside awaiting their arrival.
Following Bill Ford’s address the crowd stayed on to mingle, take in some of the artifacts and enjoy celebratory cupcakes.
Scott Cole, an IT Project Manager had this to say about the event, “It’s a great experience to see some of the history of Ford. I think everyone here is dedicated to the company and works hard and they want the best for the company. It’s a family environment so I think a lot of Henry Ford’s characteristics are still alive in the company today.”
Another employee, Christine Bodie, Ford Credit Marketing Operations manager, has worked for the company for 23 years and said the event felt personal to her. “There’s a very family feel here, I feel we all invest so much of our time and it’s different than being in another corporate setting, everyone here truly feels like family and cares,” Bodie said.
Of the characteristics Henry Ford personified, innovation was the one Bodie felt most impressed by and she told us how the drive Henry put forth so many years ago still impacts her job today. “He (Henry Ford) was so innovative. He put wheels on the road. When I’m at work I’m always thinking ‘what can I do better, how can I improve the process, how can I go further and do things differently’,” said Bodie.
Since the event took place in summer, several interns were also present and soaking up all the history. We caught up with one who just finished getting her picture taken with Bill Ford.
“I am really excited to have met him and it shows he really cares, he’s signing shirts and taking pictures with everyone and you can tell he wants to be here with his Ford family,” said Lauren Schiappa, a social media intern who says she has never been given such access to executives in previous internships. “To be in this huge, successful company and have exposure to Bill Ford is unbelievable .It is just fantastic and shows that everyone here represents a really loving community and everyone wants everyone else to succeed.”
There was a true sense of Henry Ford’s charm and charisma in the room which was only heightened by the presence of many of his belongings. From a Cartier watch with an attached locket featuring Henry and Clara, son and daughter-in-law Edsel and Eleanor and their four children, to a pair of shoes with his signature embroidered inside, the items gave everyone a sense of what Henry Ford’s life was like.
Marilyn Zoidis, director of Historical Resources for the Henry Ford museum, explained some of the treasures in the exhibit. “We pulled together a variety of things we thought would speak to the personal man, to the company that he founded and to the way people around the world thought of him,” said Zoidis.
Henry’s “jot books” were particularly interesting because they featured his own handwriting. Zoidis said he kept these little books with him at all times in order to write down ideas or other things he wanted to remember. She also said there are boxes of these little books capturing Henry’s thoughts in the museum archives.
The event at the world headquarters was just one of several that have taken place all over the world in the days and weeks leading up to this special day. Blue Oval establishments everywhere celebrated in a variety of ways from hosting road rallies to turning dealership showrooms into historical exhibits, everyone found a way to honor the tremendous impact Henry Ford had on both society and industry.