3 min read.Updated: 13 Mar 2021, 07:47 AM ISTBloomberg
Ford Motor founder Henry Ford’s great-great grandchildren Alexandra Ford English, 33, and Henry Ford III, 40, were nominated to stand for election to the company’s board at annual meeting in May
Ford Motor Co. is elevating two of founder Henry Ford’s great-great grandchildren to its board, continuing the family’s control over the industrial dynasty he created nearly 118 years ago.
Alexandra Ford English, 33, who works in corporate strategy at the company, and Henry Ford III, 40, who works in investor relations, were nominated to stand for election to the board at Ford’s annual meeting in May, the company said Friday. Ford English, who also sits on the board of Rivian Automotive Inc., is the daughter of Executive Chairman Bill Ford, 63, and Ford III is the son of Edsel Ford II, 72, who is retiring as a company director after 33 years.
Their ascension marks a coming of age for the Ford family’s fifth generation as the auto industry undergoes a massive transformation to electric and autonomous cars, with new players like Tesla Inc. and Rivian staking claims to the future of transportation. For all but 20 of its years, Ford has been led by a family member. Corporate governance experts say that has made the company too insular and backward looking, while supporters argue it has provided stability that helped Ford avoid the bankruptcies that befell its Detroit rivals during the Great Recession of 2009.
“We didn’t go bankrupt, when our competitors did, and from a shareholder’s standpoint, that kind of counts for a lot," Bill Ford said in an interview. “The family has always been quick to act, even when it hurts their interest, like stopping the dividend, to help the company. The less tangible value is that it humanizes us and makes us more than just a paycheck."
Ford shares have risen 52% this year amid plans by the automaker to invest $29 billion in electric and self-driving vehicles by 2025, and climbed as much as 4.7% to $13.41 Friday in New York, on pace for the highest price in almost five years. The company continues to work to reverse its fortunes in the traditional automotive business, with new models that include the electric Mustang Mach-E and the revival of the Bronco sport utility vehicle.
And while new Chief Executive Officer Jim Farley is winning praise on Wall Street, the Ford family remains firmly in control of the company through a special class of stock that gives them 40% voting power. Some investors have long complained that super-voting stock weighs down the value of publicly traded companies and gives founding families sometimes unwarranted control.
“This is the reason we don’t have monarchies running things anymore," said Nell Minow, vice chair of ValueEdge Advisors, a shareholder advisory firm. “Every time you put somebody on the board, you’re saying to your shareholders and your customers, this is the best person in the world for this spot, not the best person in the family."
The United Auto Workers praised the latest elevation of Ford family members as directors.
“In an age of short-term, Wall Street-focused management decisions, Ford Motor Company has benefited from the stability and continuity of the Ford family’s involvement," UAW President Rory Gamble said in a statement.
Ford English previously worked in the company’s autonomous-vehicle operations and now has a front-row seat on an electric-vehicle startup at Rivian, in which Ford has a significant ownership stake. Prior to joining Ford in 2017, she ran merchandising divisions of Tory Burch in New York and the Gap Inc. in San Francisco. She has a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Ford III has worked in labor relations, helping to craft the 2008 contract with the UAW, as well as in purchasing, corporate strategy and marketing with the company’s racing operations. Before joining the company in 2006, he taught middle school and high school math and history. He has a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and an MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Bill Ford said they each bring hands-on experience in the emerging technologies that are profoundly changing the auto industry.
“The world we’re heading into very much plays to their strengths," he said. “And their understanding of that world is perhaps greater than some of our older or less-involved board members."
Ford also said continuing the family’s involvement strengthens the company for the long term.
“If we didn’t have exceptionally qualified and caring family members, it would all have stopped with me," he said. “But very fortunately, we have two of those candidates in Henry and Alexandra, and it makes me feel -- as a father, an uncle and an executive chairman -- very good about our future."
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