TBT: Edsel Ford Joins Company in 1974

Jan 11, 2024

Former Ford Motor Company Vice President and longtime board member Edsel B. Ford II joined Ford Motor Company 50 years ago this month, creating a legacy that also includes pursuing passions and charitable giving. 

He spent two years as assistant managing director of Ford of Australia beginning in 1978. Click to Enlarge

Born in 1948, Edsel Ford II was named for his grandfather, the only child of company founder Henry Ford. His late father, Henry Ford II, was the longtime leader of Ford Motor Company, serving as president from 1945 to 1960, and then as chairman from 1960 to 1980. Edsel Ford II joined Ford Motor Company as a product analyst on the Product Planning and Research Staff on January 7, 1974. Prior to joining the company, Ford spent a summer working as a mechanic for Shelby American in 1968. 

Also, Ford spent a two-year stint in Ford of Australia as assistant managing director beginning in 1978. He became president and chief operating officer of Ford Credit, then the second-largest finance company in the world, in 1991. In 1993, he became a vice president of Ford Motor Company. He had previously been executive director of Ford’s marketing staff. In 1988, he and his cousin Bill Ford were elected to the company’s Board of Directors. 

Post-Ford career

Ford retired in 1998 and has since worked as a consultant for the company in areas such as dealer relations – he founded the company’s Salute to Dealers program – customer advocacy and corporate history. He also continued to serve on the board until 2021. 

Ford also has an extensive history of charitable work, highlighted by the Outstanding Philanthropists award he and his wife Cynthia received in 1996 from the National Society of Fund Raising Executives. Also, Ford has long championed the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), for which Ford Motor Company has raised more than $75 million over the past 25 years. He has also been involved with other charitable organizations, including The Henry Ford, The Empowerment Plan and Race Against Dementia, among many others.

Born to fly

When it came time for Ford Motor Company’s centennial in 2003, Ford chaired the planning committee that created the year-long centennial celebration. The events dovetailed with Ford’s love of aviation, as the schedule included an exhibit featuring the company’s history in flight – Ford’s Tri-Motor airplane and its support of flying in its early days was vital to the success of the industry. Edsel Ford II is also the owner of Pentastar Aviation, which he purchased in 2001.

In 2004, Ford was named Crain’s Detroit Business’ “Newsmaker of the Year” for spearheading development of Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit, and for championing the city as chairman of the Detroit 300 Conservancy.

The Godfather

Known as the “Godfather of Ford Racing” for his role as an ambassador for the company’s motorsports efforts, Edsel Ford II was recently inducted into the Walk of Fame at the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame. Also, he was honored with the NASCAR Hall of Fame Landmark Award in 2020. 

While Ford retired from the company’s board of directors in recent years, his son, Henry Ford III, continues to serve on the board. Alexandra Ford English, daughter of Bill Ford, is also a board member. The Ford family connection also continues with Elena Ford, the great-great-granddaughter of company founder Henry Ford and the granddaughter of Henry Ford II, who was recently named the company’s chief dealer engagement officer.

Giving thanks to employees

The new Ford Experience Center in Dearborn was recently dedicated to Edsel Ford II, an honor he in turn devoted to the company’s employees.

“The building is named after me because of employees, because of their work, not because of my work,” he said. “It’s because of all the people that have supported me since I joined the company in 1974. This building should be dedicated to them with a little parenthetical underneath it that says ‘Edsel.’”

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