While running Ford of Switzerland in the mid-1980s, William Clay Ford Jr. had to make do without many of the comforts of his Michigan home. But he wasn't going to let a few thousand miles stand between him and his beloved Detroit Lions, the football team owned by his dad. Every Sunday at game time, Ford would call a relative back in Detroit, who in turn would place the phone next to the radio so that Ford could hear the play-by-play.
Ford, 34, shows the same kind of devotion to that other family business, Ford Motor Co. When he was made manager of heavy-truck engineering and manufacturing in 1989, he even went to truck-driving school and got his heavy-truck license. "I felt I needed a marketable skill to fall back on," he jokes.
Bill Ford, as he likes to be known, is clearly on the fast track. His latest title is executive director of business strategy at Ford Automotive Group in Dearborn, Mich. Among other responsibilities, he reviews global strategic alliances, such as Ford's relationship with its 25%-owned affiliate Mazda Motor Corp. He's also one of two Fords on the board of directors -- the other being Cousin Edsel. Reluctant to speak up at first, Bill now serves on the executive and finance committees. Along with Edsel, he has a real shot at running the whole company one day.
But the two cousins couldn't be more different. Bill is the more effusive, and most view him as the more intellectual: While Edsel struggled in college, Bill graduated from Princeton University with a degree in history and then earned a master's of science in management from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Married, with three children, Bill lives in Grosse Pointe. Apart from collecting Civil War manuscripts, his chief diversion is the Lions organization, of which he is treasurer.
Bill has had a broader range of Ford jobs than his older cousin, who until recently was strictly in marketing and sales. "Billy's breadth of background, enthusiasm for taking on new things geographically, and willingness to take on assignments early in his career are going to pay off," says one senior executive. "Of the two, as time passes, Billy will turn out to be stronger."
NO PETER PAN. On the other hand, Bill has not spent as much time in the spotlight as Edsel. That may have something to do with Bill's father, who never generated as much attention as Edsel's dad, former Chairman Henry Ford II. Whatever the reason, Bill's public persona and his skills in handling people are not as smooth as Edsel's, some colleagues say. He's not a car enthusiast like his cousin. And above all, he's just younger.
But you don't have to tell him that. Having been referred to as "one of the Ford kids" for all his life, "I have to admit that I'm impatient to grow up," he recently told a gathering of advertising executives.
In his new job, he'll have plenty of opportunity to show just how grown-up he has become.
'BILL' CLIMBS THE LADDER BORN May 3, 1957, son of William Ford CAREER HIGHLIGHTS1979 Joined Ford as a product-planning analyst 1982-88 Various jobs in sales, marketing, finance, international operations, and labor relations 1988 Elected to board of directors 1989 Chosen as manager of heavy-truck engineering and manufacturing at Ford Truck Operations 1991 Named executive director of business strategy, Ford Automotive Group DATA: FORD MOTOR CO.