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DEARBORN - Under a blue May sky with helicopters hovering overhead, more than 900 Ford employees gathered on the west lawn at Ford World Headquarters Tuesday to celebrate the company’s return to investment grade. They rallied happily into position donning blue and white t-shirts to form an 81-foot-wide Ford Blue Oval and pose for a special historic team photograph as well as personal photographs with Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford.
An upgrade from Moody’s Investor Services triggered the return of all collateral to Ford – including the Ford Blue Oval – that was pledged in a 2006 loan. The photograph at WHQ was designed to symbolize Ford getting the Blue Oval back.
“When we pledged the Ford Blue Oval as part of the loan package, we were not just pledging an asset. We pledged our heritage,” said Bill Ford. “The Ford Blue Oval is one of the most recognized symbols in the world, and it is a source of great pride and passion, both inside and outside our company.”
The announcement of Ford’s upgrade to investment grade came late in the day on Tuesday. When asked to describe how he felt to see so many people turn out at WHQ for the photo with hardly an hour’s notice, Ford responded, “This is a different kind of company. People who work here feel passionate about our company in a way that I don’t think exists in many other places, and I love that.”
Ford’s message to all employees was simple and heartfelt.
“It’s been a long roller coaster ride, and it’s been tough on a lot of people,” he said. “So before I talk about the future, I just want to stop and simply say thank you and let’s enjoy it.”
Ford needed two of three specified nationally recognized rating agencies to upgrade the company to investment grade in order to get the collateral on the loan released. The first upgrade came at the end of April from Fitch. The second came Tuesday from Moody’s.
Bill Dirksen, executive director, Employee Relations, was among the hundreds of people who gathered in Dearborn for Tuesday’s celebration.
“The Blue Oval is a very emotional symbol for everybody here,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for this for so long. We felt, we believed and we knew it was coming, and it just feels really good that we finally got here.”
Dirksen gave a special shout-out to plant employees.
“They’ve been working really hard for this, and they’ve earned it,” he said. “So they’re going to be very happy across the whole system.”
Shiva Gumate, Vehicle Engineering, said he was thrilled to hear the news that Ford was going to get the Blue Oval back.
“For several years I had the feeling that we had lost something because we had mortgaged it for some time,” he said. “I know it was temporary, but it feels so good to get it back.”
Gumate’s thoughts about the Blue Oval were echoed by Sam McKee from Securitization Accounting.
“I got goose pimples when I heard the news,” she said. “I had just finished reading the book American Icon and I knew what the Blue Oval meant to the company. I was here through all the bad times so it’s nice to be here for the good stuff.”