April 10, 1944
Henry Ford II is promoted
Henry Ford II was named executive vice president of the Ford Motor Company. His promotion confirmed his bid to become the heir to his grandfather’s throne at Ford. Henry II despised his grandfather for tormenting his father, Edsel Ford. Nevertheless Henry II went on to display many of the leadership skills of his grandfather en route to becoming the head of the Ford Empire. After an unsatisfactory academic career at Yale University—where Henry spent four years without receiving a diploma—he returned to work at the River Rouge plant. There he familiarized himself with the operation of the company, and he witnessed the bitter struggle for the succession of Henry Ford’s title as president of the company. After his father Edsel Ford’s death– the result of “stomach cancer, undulant fever, and a broken heart”– Ford Lieutenants Harry Bennett and Charles Sorensen fought a silent battle for the Ford throne. Henry Ford Sr. had reassumed the title of president, although it was clear he was too old to stay in that position for long. The irritable Henry I wasn’t dead yet though, and he intervened on behalf of his violent pet Harry Bennet, who had gained power at Ford for his suppression of organized labor. After being passed up for the vice presidency of the company, Sorensen left the company after over 40 years of service. Many attributed Ford’s poor treatment of Sorensen to personal jealousy. Henry the Elder was reportedly even jealous of his grandson’s presence at the Rouge Plant. At the outbreak of World War II, Henry II left Ford for military service, which he carried out in Salt Lake City, Utah, until his father died on May 26, 1943. At that time he returned to Ford to take the reigns of the company at the urging of the U.S Government. His grandfather was finally too old to run the company; and if he didn’t name a successor, the company would fall out of the family’s control for the first time in its existence. Realizing that Henry’s presence would make his own accession to the company’s presidency impossible, strongman Harry Bennett attempted to bring Henry II under his influence. His efforts were of no avail, though, as Henry Ford II refused to be influenced by his tyrannical grandfather’s toady. His accession to the executive vice-presidency made him the inevitable successor to the presidency of the Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford II went on to lead his family’s company back to greatness from its dubious position behind both GM and Chrysler after the war.