Philip Caldwell obituary: Executive who restored Ford's global standing

'It was ridiculous that Caldwell was suddenly above me,' a resentful Lee Iacocca recalled

Philip Caldwell became Ford’s first chief executive officer who was not a member of the founder’s family and went on to gamble the car manufacturer’s future on the Taurus sedan in the 1980s.

Caldwell followed in the footsteps of more famous executives. He became president of Ford in 1978 after Henry Ford II fired Lee Iacocca. “Hank the Deuce,” grandson of the company’s founder Henry Ford, chose Caldwell as his successor, first as CEO in 1979 and as chairman the following year. His close relationship with Henry Ford II earned Caldwell the nickname “The Prince” inside the company.

In their 1994 book Comeback: The Fall and Rise of the American Automobile Industry Paul Ingrassia and Joseph B White wrote that Caldwell was “remarkably cool and resolute in a crisis”, adding that “He “had enormous analytical skills and the determination to examine any problem from every conceivable angle.” Caldwell presided over a much-needed turnaround in the firm’s fortunes following nearly $3.3 billion of losses during two US recessions from 1980 until 1982, as well as questions over the design and safety of the Ford Pinto.

Caldwell was born in 1920 in Ohio. He earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1942, served on the staff of Admiral Chester Nimitz during the Second World War and joined Ford in 1953.

After working in purchasing, engineering and manufacturing, he became 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 international operations. Among his achievements was the Fiesta, Ford’s first small car in Europe, in 1976.

A reorganisation in April 1977 that elevated Caldwell to vice chairman intensified the feud between Iacocca, who remained president, and Henry Ford II. “It was ridiculous that Caldwell, who used to work for me, was suddenly above me for no apparent reason except malice,” Iacocca wrote in his 1984 memoir.

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 only a few weeks, until Iacocca departed. Caldwell succeeded him as president, while a few months later Iacocca took charge at Chrysler.

The problems Caldwell inherited included the recall of 1.5 million pre-1977 Pinto sedans following court decisions ordering the company to pay damages for petrol-tank fires caused by rear-end collisions. That did not stop Ford’s new president from talking up 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 said.

Caldwell had impressed his bosses by helping introduce the popular Fiesta, and Ford invested $3 billion in the aerodynamic Taurus. He unveiled the sedan just before he retired and was replaced as CEO by Donald Petersen. Ford previewed the car on in January 1985, at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in California with festivities that included a dinner attended by celebrities like Ethel Merman and Wonder Woman Linda Carter. “Caldwell couldn’t stomach the thought of Petersen getting credit for the Taurus, a car developed mostly on Caldwell’s watch,” wrote Ingrassia and White. The Taurus became the best-selling car in the US.

Philip Caldwell, business executive: born Bourneville, Ohio 27 January 1920; married Betsey (two daughters, one son); died 10 July 2013.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on