A report in the Business section yesterday on executive changes at the Ford Motor Co. inadvertently omitted the role of Ernest R. Breech, who served as chairman of Ford Motor Co. from 1955 to 1960 and was the first non-Ford-family member in that position. Philip Caldwell became the first non-family chief executive officer of the company in 1980, when he also became chairman. For a while, Ford separated the offices of chairman and chief executive officer, now combined.
Ford Motor Co. Chairman Philip Caldwell announced yesterday that he will retire next Feb. 1, five days after his 65th birthday. He will be replaced by Ford President Donald E. Petersen.
Petersen, 58, is highly regarded within the company and domestic auto industry for his product knowledge and marketing sense.
Petersen will be succeeded by Harold A. Poling, 59, who now serves as executive vice president in charge of Ford's North American operations. Poling, widely credited with returning the once-faltering North American operations to profitability, also will be appointed a member of the company's Office of the Chief Executive.
Some analysts said that yesterday's announcement marks the first orderly transition of power at Ford -- in business since 1903 -- in the company's modern history.
There had been persistent rumors in Detroit that Poling would leapfrog Petersen, which the analysts said would have been in keeping with the generally tumultuous way in which Ford has gone about past reorganizations of its executive suites.
"This transition is normal, which is hard to believe, because normal transitions of power are out of character for Ford," said auto industry analyst David Healy of New York-based Drexel Burnham Lambert.
Another industry analyst, who did not want to be identified, said, "It's the first orderly transition of power in the lifetime of most people now working at the company. It's a sign of the maturing of the political process at Ford."
Henry Ford II stepped from behind the wheel of the company in 1979, after 34 years in the driver's seat. His departure was marked by power fights within the Ford family and within the company itself.
One of the most notable brouhahas occurred a year earlier, in 1978, when Ford II summarily dismissed then-president Lee A. Iacocca -- the "father" of the Mustang sports car, who went on to gain fame as chairman of the born-again Chrysler Corp.
Caldwell, the first non-Ford family member to sit in the chairman's office, succeeded Henry Ford II in 1980. Under his leadership, Ford rolled from billions of dollars of recessionary losses to record profits -- the latest being $380 million ($2.05 a share) for the third quarter of this year.
Analysts and industry officials said that Petersen and Poling helped.
Poling gets points for knocking up to $3 billion annually off of Ford's fixed costs, thus helping to put the company into position to execute Petersen's chancy, but now-successful marketing strategy.
Petersen brought out a radically redesigned line of cars -- the rounded, aerodynamically styled Ford Thunderbird and Lincoln-Mercury Cougar -- in the middle of the 1983-model year. He followed that with the aero-shaped Ford Tempo and L/M Topaz in 1984.
Even with the American auto industry protected by "voluntary" quotas on Japanese imports, analysts and Ford's competitors said that Petersen was risking disaster. But sales of all four models, though initially slow, have been brisk.