Philip Caldwell, Ford Motor Co.’s first CEO who wasn’t a member of the founder’s family, and who gambled the automaker’s future on the Taurus sedan in the 1980s, has died. He was 93.
He died last week at his home in New Canaan, Conn., his family said. The cause was complications of a stroke.
Caldwell followed in the footsteps of more famous executives. He became president of Ford in 1978 after Henry Ford II fired Lee Iacocca.
“Hank the Deuce,” grandson of founder Henry Ford, then chose Caldwell as his successor, first as CEO in 1979 and as chairman the following year. His close relationship with Henry Ford II earned Caldwell the nickname “The Prince” inside the company, according to a New York Times profile in 1979.
He was “remarkably cool and resolute in a crisis,” wrote Paul Ingrassia and Joseph B. White in their 1994 book, Comeback: The Fall and Rise of the American Automobile Industry. He “had enormous analytical skills and the determination to examine any problem from every conceivable angle,” they wrote.
As president and then CEO, Caldwell presided over a turnaround. Ford endured almost 3.3 billion dollars of losses during two U.S. recessions from 1980 through 1982, as well as questions over the design and safety of its Pinto model.
“Philip Caldwell had a remarkable impact at Ford Motor Company over a span of more than 30 years,” Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in a statement.
“Serving as CEO and later as Chairman of the Board of Directors, he helped guide the company through a difficult turnaround in the 1980s and drove the introductions of ground-breaking products around the globe. His dedication and relentless passion for quality always will be hallmarks of his legacy at Ford. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
During his rise within the company, Caldwell had impressed his bosses by helping introduce the popular Fiesta. On his watch as CEO, Ford invested 3 billion dollars on the aerodynamic Taurus, which became the best-selling car in the United States.
Caldwell unveiled the sedan in January 1985, just before he retired and was replaced as CEO by Donald Petersen. The vehicle went on sale later that year as a 1986 model.
“Caldwell couldn’t stomach the thought of Petersen getting credit for the Taurus, a car developed mostly on Caldwell’s watch,” Ingrassia and White wrote in Comeback.
Ford previewed the car on Jan. 29, 1985, at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in California with activities that included a dinner attended by celebrities Danny Thomas, Ethel Merman and Linda Carter, according to the book.
Caldwell remained on Ford’s board until 1990.
Upon the 1987 death of Henry Ford II, Caldwell, on behalf of the board, pressed 30-year-old William Clay Ford Jr., known as Bill, whether he wanted to become custodian of his family’s interests and eventually lead the company that his great-grandfather started.
“Whether Bill had thought about it, whether he really wanted to be a serious player — that was something we wanted to know,” Caldwell said in a 2002 interview with Bloomberg Markets magazine.
Bill Ford served as CEO from late 2001 until September 2006, when he became executive chairman.