The Business On... Bill Ford, Chairman, Ford Motor Company

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The Independent Online

Any relation to Henry?

William Clay Ford, to give him his full name, is the great-grandson of Henry Ford, the company's founder. He ran the company for five years, turning the chief executive's post over to Alan Mulally in 2006, and remains the executive chairman of Ford to this day.

He must be a total petrol-head.

So you might think, but he is actually regarded as a pretty committed environmentalist – at least for the automotive industry. In London this week to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ford's first steps into Britain – its first factory was actually in Manchester, not Dagenham, which was developed a little later – he was banging the drum once again, talking about how he believes there are too many cars on the world's roads.

Isn't that partly his fault?

In some ways. Ford as a company did more to popularise motor cars than any other organisation and, of course, it continues to churn them out. On the other hand, Mr Ford has for years campaigned for better public transport systems. He's also spearheaded Ford's efforts to improve fuel efficiency, which has had positive environmental effects. And he practises what he preaches: he has driven hybrids and even electric cars for years now.

He sounds like a thoroughly modern executive.

He was one of the first American business bosses to really lead from the front. He is arguably best known for an incident in 1999 that saw him rush to the scene of an explosion in one of Ford's factories that had killed workers. In doing so, he rejected the advice from aides that "generals don't go out to the front line". His reply is reputed to have been: "Then bust me down to private."

Doesn't anyone have a bad word to say about him?

Probably not to his face – he's a taekwondo blackbelt. Though he doesn't sound the violent type – he's also a committed vegetarian and a guitar player, fond of folk music. He's one of the boys, too – a regular on Ford's works ice hockey team which is, by all accounts, pretty good.