How Ford Did It


By Donald E. Petersen and John Hillkirk

Houghton Mifflin -- 270pp -- $24.95

Virtually everyone who worked for Ford Motor Co. in 1964 wanted credit for creating the Mustang. Lee A. Iacocca got the lion's share, landing on the cover of Time and Newsweek. Yet in his new book, Don Petersen, who later became chairman, recalls the pony car's birth as "an early example of successful teamwork at Ford." He names Iacocca and Don Frey as his bosses, Hal Sperlich and himself as the planners, two designers, and three engineers. "I don't think Lee will mind," he adds, "if I say that Hal Sperlich, who worked for me, was the key person on the team."

Petersen, now retired, is clearly no glory-hound. About the only achievements at Ford for which he claims credit are inviting quality guru W. Edwards Deming in, visiting lots of plants to encourage employee involvement, and taking a personality test with Ford President-to-be Harold A. "Red" Poling so each would better understand the other.

In the same spirit, Petersen's book is neither a self-serving career memoir nor a corporate kiss-and-tell, but a manager's guide. His message: Giving workers more authority will lead to a wellspring of innovation. Or, as he told me some months ago: "The same stuff I used to bore you reporters with: teamwork, trust, cooperation, empowering people."

Boring or just consistent, Petersen got results. Under him, Ford topped General Motors Corp. in profits for two straight years. Its costs became the lowest among Detroit auto makers, and its labor relations the best. For executives seeking to duplicate such success, the book's six core chapters explain how Ford helped its workers adopt more productive attitudes. Each ends with a list of "ideas for action." Later chapters show that employee involvement can work in service industries and overseas units. Some managers may write off Petersen's prescriptions, which he admits derive largely from the Golden Rule, as simplistic and obvious. But the evidence is that what Petersen says works.