's timing proved miserable: Just as Edsel in all its garish glory was reaching the market, designers were lopping off fins and other excesses of the '50s, returning to sanity. After barely two years, the Edsel Div. was dismantled early in the 1960 model year.
But that's history. Edsel II was not yet a teenager when Edsel, the car, nosedived into oblivion. Besides, who -- except for thefamily en masse -- has a car with his own name on it these days?
Today at 47, Edsel II is the senior member of the fourth-generation Fords to actively participate in the company his great-great grandfather founded in 1903.
Next came Edsel I and then his son, the legendary Henry Ford II, Edsel II's father.
As president of the Ford Motor Credit Co. since 1991, a member of the board of directors since 1988 and a corporate vice president since 1993, he's also the highest-ranking Ford at Ford. His cousin William Clay Ford Jr. left active management in 1995 and remains chairman of the powerful finance committee, but he no longer is a Ford employee. "Billy's" father William Clay Sr. continues on the board, but he retired as vice chairman in 1989. Both are active in the Detroit Lions, owned by Bill Sr.
Other Ford descendants also work at the company and there's even one fifth-generation member of the family: Elena, daughter of Edsel II's sister, Charlotte.
WAW interviewed Edsel II at Ford Credit headquarters near the company's Dearborn, MI, "Glass House" World Headquarters in late April. Here are excerpts from that chat:
His job: "We passed GMAC about a year ago in total receivables, so actually I think we're the largest automotive finance company in the world. Ford Credit is in 31 countries with about 250 offices (13,000 employees). Our net receivables are $120 billion."
How he got the job: Edsel joined Ford in 1974 shortly after graduating from Babson College, moved up to increasingly important jobs in Australia and the Ford and Lincoln-Mercury divisions, and then was tapped for the top Ford Credit job by Phil Benton, then Ford president.
"When he offered me this job I looked at him and said, `You know, Phil, I don't have a finance background, and I really don't know much about the credit business -- as a matter of fact, I know nothing about the credit business.' And he said, `Well, it's a great opportunity to use some of your dealers' skills, and I said, `Well, I'll have a go at it.' I think without a doubt this is the best job I've had. This is a very big company (Ford Credit). We can make a really big impact in the automotive industry. So I'm really enjoying this job. It's challenging, there's something new every day, and I'm learning."
Where would he like to go next at Ford? "I really don't want to get into that today. I guess my interest is full employment at the Ford Motor Co. I've got four children to get through college and I just bought a new boat. I've got to worry about my cash flow like everyone else. Hey, I've got debt like everyone else ... I have two mortgages and I pay them off every month; I don't want to be in arrears (not likely, given the 139,557 Ford common shares worth $4.9 million plus 5,436,256 Class B shares he owns)."
Like his father "The Deuce," Edsel is witty and quick with a quip. Although he loves cars, he says he hasn't visited Ford's design studios in two years. "They don't let me out anymore, David. I have to close the safe at night, open it in the morning. I'm the only guy who knows the combination to the vault."
Mr. Ford says the biggest single change he has seen in his 22 years in the business "is that we have become significantly more customer-driven than ever before."
Asked whether he would like to see his children enter the "company business" one day, Mr. Ford replies: "I've got young kids; they've got a long way to go. I think I would leave that up to them."
Is being perhaps the most visible Ford at times burdensome? "Let me answer that in three ways, because I think it's important to separate each of the issues: One as a Ford employee -- being a member of the founding family and being a Ford employee is not burdensome, but it's a little bit of a challenge ... as a family member we're very proud of Ford ... as a private individual, I believe the city of Detroit and, maybe even broader, that the country has given the Ford family and me personally a great deal to be proud of.
"There's a certain mantle I have to carry, and most of my charities (the list is long) know I do that with enthusiasm as well."
Henry Ford II once said during a stormy annual meeting that there were no "crown princes" at Ford. Edsel II and other young Fords were in the audience. "I just thought that was a typical comment from my father. You know that he was prone to saying those kinds of things, but I think he meant it."