After 34 years at the helm of the company that bears his name, Henry Ford II announced today that he would retire as Ford Motor Co.'s chief executive officer on Oct. 1 of this year - the 71st birthday of the Model T, the car that made the company a success.
The announcement, which had been expected for some time, came during the company's annual meeting here, a meeting marred by a bitter Ford family feud over the qualifications of 29-year-old Benson Ford Jr., Henry Ford's nephew, to serve on the board of directors of the company.
When Henry Ford II steps aside, Philip Caldwell, currently vice chairman and president, will become chief executive officer and Ford will remain in the non-executive role of chairman of the board. In addition, on June 10, the 61-year-old Ford will be come chairman of the finance committee of the board. The position of vice chairman will be eliminated.
After announcing his retirement, Ford spoke out against an attempt by his nephew to joint the board.
"Other members of the family who are qualified to work for the company will have a competitive opportunity to do so," he said, "but ownership of B stock (family held stock) is not a passport to a top position in Ford. It confers no special privileges.
"There are no crowned princes in the Ford Motor Co. and there is no privileged route to the top," said the senior Ford, who himself was elected to the board of the company while still a college student and assumed his leadership of the firm at age 28.
Ford added that the board's nominating committee had met and decided not to nominate the controversial Benson Ford Jr. because he was "not qualified." The younger Ford, who is in the midst of court fights challenging his father's will and claiming the Ford family has denied him the benefit to his father's estate, reportedly believes that his late father's seat on the board of directors should rightfully be passed on to him.
In a short, but dramatic statement to the stockholders after he was nominated to the board from the floor of the meeting, Benson Ford Jr. said his father had impressed upon him "from my earliest childhood" that he should stay involved in the Ford company. He was also critical of the decision of the board's nominating committee not to enter his name as a board candidate.
"I have never met a single member of that committee but my Uncle Henry," he said, "and not only was I not granted an interview but I was not asked for a resume." He said he didn't even know if the meeting actually took place.
Family members in the company have said privately that the young Ford would be welcome in the firm in a lower level job, providing he settles the bitter lawsuits that are pending. The family is particularly irked by Bendon's selection of New York attorney Roy Cohn to represent him in the Ford estate litigation. Cohn is also representing dissident Ford stockholders in an action against Henry Ford II charging misuse of company funds.
When asked by Cohn why Benson Ford Jr. was not qualified to serve on the board of the company at age 29 when the elder Ford first joined the board at a younger age, Henry Ford II said the company was "different" when he joined the board. "It was a family company then," Ford said, "and the board meetings were in my grandfather's head."
Benson Ford Jr.'s nomination from the floor came from corporate gadfly Evelyn Y. Davis.
As expected, Benson Ford Jr. lost his bid to become a director by a resounding margin. He received slightly more than 6,000 votes. Directors nominated by the committee received more than 48 million votes.
In any case, Benson Ford said, "I am not fading away."
But the elder Ford said in his remarks that "none of the decisions or the management changes I have announced today have been influenced in any way by smears, slander or tax upon the company in general or me in particular."
Ford was accused by Cohn at last year's meeting of using company funds to keep up his personal apartment at the Carlyle Hotel in New York.
In this year's proxy statement, the company acknowledges that a "review of business expense and other records relating to the company's officers is being conducted." Further, the proxy states, Henry Ford II has already been billed $34,585, for items of a personal natural that was found to be paid for by the company.
Ford was also criticized for allowing former Ford president Lee Iacocca to negotiate the elimiation of a clause in his contract that would have prevented him from going to work for a competitor. After being forced to leave Ford last year-following difficulties with Henry Ford-Iacocca became president of competing Chrysler Corporation, and promptly hired several former Ford executives as well as convincing Ford's advertising agency to jump to Chrysler.
Responding to questions from the floor, Ford revealed that Iacocca would be receiving more than $850,000 in compensation from Ford for his severance and for prior service to the company.
Responding to other questions, Ford said $318,000 was spent on expense accounts by Ford officers that also serve as directors, and that the company now owns 16 airplanes. In addition, Ford said the company had purchased $190,000 last year in advertising from the Los Angeles Times, whose corporate chairman, Franklin D. Murphy, is a Ford director.
Stockholder proposals to limit charitable, educational and similar contributions by the company, to subject stock option plans to new restrictions, and to stop all Ford sales to the South African military or police, were defeated resoundingly.
Caldwell told the stockholders the financial performance of the company last year was "excellent," but predicted there would be virtually no increase in car and truck sales in the U.S. next year over last year's 11.1 billion in industry sales. Overseas sales, he said, should rise to about 18.3 million cars and 5.2 million trucks, this year, representing increases of 3 and 4 percent respectively.
Ford had record sales of $42.8 billion last year and $1.6 billion in earnings, second only to 1977's earning of $1.7 billion. And in the first quarter of 1979, Ford reported its most profitable quarter in history, with $594.8 million in earnings. CAPTION: Chart, Ford Motors Annual Report, By Bill Perkins-The Washington Post