Philip Caldwell, Ford Motor Co.'s first chief executive officer 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.
Caldwell died Wednesday at his home in New Canaan, Conn., his family said in a statement provided by the company. The cause was complications of a stroke.
He followed in the footsteps of more famous executives. He became president of Ford in 1978 after Henry Ford II, grandson of founder Henry Ford, fired Lee Iacocca and chose Caldwell to lead the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker, first as CEO in 1979 and as chairman the next year.
Caldwell was "remarkably cool and resolute in a crisis," Paul Ingrassia and Joseph B. White wrote 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 as CEO, Caldwell presided over a turnaround. Ford endured almost $3.3 billion in losses during two U.S. recessions from 1980 through 1982, as well as questions over the design and safety of its Pinto model.
During his rise within the company, Caldwell had impressed his bosses by helping introduce the popular Fiesta compact. On his watch as CEO, Ford invested $3 billion 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 remained on Ford's board until 1990.
Born Jan. 27, 1920, in Bourneville, Ohio, Caldwell was the youngest of four children of Wilhelmina Hemphill Caldwell and Robert Clyde Caldwell.
He graduated in 1940 from what is now Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio, where he majored in economics and debated on a championship team. He earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1942, served on the staff of Adm. Chester W. Nimitz during World War II and joined Ford in 1953.
After working in purchasing, engineering and manufacturing, he was named a manager in Ford's truck product planning division in 1960 and general manager of truck operations in 1968, when he was also elected a vice president. He was assigned to Ford's Philco car radio unit in Philadelphia and in 1973 became chief of Ford's international operations. Among his achievements was creation of the Fiesta, Ford's first small car in Europe, in 1976.
A reorganization in April 1977 that elevated Caldwell to vice chairman intensified the feud between Iacocca, who remained president, and Henry Ford II.
Fourteen months later, in June 1978, Ford named his younger brother, William Clay Ford Sr., as chairman of the executive committee. Caldwell became deputy CEO, with Iacocca reporting to him. The tense arrangement lasted a few weeks, until Iacocca departed. Caldwell became president, succeeding Iacocca, who a few months later took charge at Chrysler Corp.
The problems Caldwell inherited included the recall of 1.5 million pre-1977 Pinto subcompact sedans after court decisions ordering the company to pay damages for gasoline tank fires caused by rear-end collisions. That didn't stop Ford's new president from expressing optimism about the company's future.
"As strange as it may sound to you, all the data we have show that the quality of our products today is better than any of the other domestic producers," Caldwell told the New York Times in 1978.
He is survived by his wife of 67 years, the former Betsey C. Clark; three children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun