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Henry Ford's Great-Great Grandchildren Join the Family Business


Calvin Ford, 29, knew as a child where he would probably wind up working as an adult. But he took his time getting there.
He spent his first few years after college in jobs in the Northeast and in Asheville, N.C. Then his wife landed a job in Denver. It just so happened that Ford Motor Co. had a place with an open job there.
He applied, went through a standard new employee hiring process in Dearborn, Mich., and since January 2012 has been a zone sales manager based in Denver, working with Ford dealers in Wyoming and Idaho.
"I always knew that if I went to work at Ford, it was going to be my career," says Calvin Ford, a great-great grandson of the company's founder.
Calvin Ford is one of seven descendants of Henry Ford now working at the car company that bears the family name. Most are just starting their careers but a cousin, Bill Ford Jr., has been chairman since 1999 and Calvin's father has spent 39 years at the company.
At a time when nonfamily Ford shareholders are showing signs of discontent with the Ford family's effective control via super-voting stock, more members of the family than ever are now working at the auto maker, say company officials. And several more young Fords could join the ranks over the next few years, family members say.
A Ford is unlikely to run the company soon. Current Chief Executive Alan Mulally, 67, has said he plans to stay through at least 2014. Last year, the company named Mark Fields as chief operating officer, making him the likely successor.
A shareholder proposal this year to abolish the separate classes of stock got 33% of total share votes—equivalent to just over half the nonfamily voting shares and the highest percentage of such proposals at Ford.
"I think the [market] value would be higher if it was one share, one vote," says John Chevedden, 67, of Redondo Beach, Calif., a Ford shareholder who, along with his father, supported the proposal to end the Class B super voting rights.
The global auto industry is rich with family dynasties. Descendants of Giovanni Agnelli still control Italian auto maker Fiat. Members of Germany's Quandt family have a significant stake in BMW. The Chung family runs the Hyundai Motor Group in Korea and Volkswagen Chairman Ferdinand Piëch is a grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, founder of the German sports car company that bears his name and a key architect of the original Volkswagen Beetle.
At Ford, which has been a publicly-listed company since 1956, descendants of the founder maintain effective control through Class B supervoting stock that gives them 40% of the common stock vote.
Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr., 56, says shareholders benefit from his family's involvement, and he sees it as part of his job to try to get family members to participate in the company's operations. Ford avoided the bankruptcies that befell its U.S. rivals during the 2009 financial crisis and its shares have gained 47% in the past year.
"They know there is going to be someone there through thick and thin who isn't going to take a golden parachute and run somewhere," he said.
Mr. Ford also says family members no longer have an inside track to leadership roles. He and his cousin, board member Edsel Ford II, are members of the fourth generation. Ford family members who join the company start in relatively low-level salaried jobs. A Ford spokeswoman said family members aren't exempt from the standard hiring process.
"There are no guarantees for any of them," Bill Ford Jr. says.
Family-owned firms account for two-thirds of the world's businesses, but family control of a company rarely lasts beyond three generations. Between 1% and 2% of businesses survive to three generations, and few go beyond, said John Davis, a Harvard Business School professor.
In Ford's early years, leadership was a family affair, passing from Henry Ford, to his son Edsel and in 1945 to Edsel's son, Henry II, who was CEO until 1979. Since then, a series of nonfamily members have run the company, except for nearly five years between 2001 and 2006 when Bill Ford Jr. took over as CEO following the dismissal of his predecessor, Jacques Nasser. In 2006, with the company reeling from losses, Mr. Ford ceded the CEO title to Mr. Mulally, a former Boeing Co. executive.
The highest-ranking employee of the Ford's fifth-generation is Elena Ford, 47, who recently was promoted to vice president of global dealer and consumer experience. Alessandro Uzielli, the son of Anne Ford and Giancarlo Uzielli, 46, leads Ford's global brand entertainment office in Hollywood. Calvin's older brother Henry Ford III, 33, works in marketing in Irvine, Calif.
Jody Ingle, 32, whose mother Jo Ingle is a great-grandchild of Henry Ford, is a fledgling designer at the company's Dearborn vehicle design studios, creating interiors for vehicles.
Mr. Ingle got to shadow Bill Ford Jr. during much of 2011, discussing the decisions with his more senior relative. Mr. Ingle, who declined to be interviewed, sat in on meetings, traveled with his cousin and got an inside look at how the company ran.
Bill Ford Jr. says he isn't putting pressure on his four children to join the family business. He recalls that when he was about to graduate from Princeton University, his father, William Clay Ford Sr., asked him over a game of pool what he planned to do after he left school. Mr. Ford Sr.'s advice: Join the company only if you love it, and don't expect to make it to the top.
Now, Bill Ford Jr. says his son, Will, is entering his senior year at Princeton. They haven't had the pool room talk yet.
A special Thanks to Mike Ramsey at the Wall Street Journal and James Hookway, who also contributed to this article.

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