William Clay Ford Jr, the great grandson of Henry Ford (yes that Ford), and Harvey S Firestone (yes that Firestone), is a most unusual scion of two of the very greats of the American golden age of industrial growth. I guess you like me, would expect a powerfully built individual, striding the floor, leader of men, surrounded by cowering minions, dispensing wisdom in a shout, perhaps accompanied at official events at a discrete distance by a nervous trial of executives clutching notebooks.
Yet the reality could hardly be more different.
You won’t find him at any Les Mans reception, or perhaps a vehicle reveal in Geneva, with a glass of bubbly or indeed any alcohol in his hand as he is teetotal. In fact, it’s unlikely he’ll even be enjoying those expensive canapes that always seem to abound at these events because he is a vegan. And to hear him, you need to get close, real close, he actually talks in a quiet hum, which often amongst the babble seems to be barely above a whisper.
And should you be lucky enough to meet, whether you happen to be senior executive of the last great US motor manufacturer that has any ties to their founder, or merely the company photographer, he will extend a hand, an almost seemingly shy smile, look you straight in the eye, and say by way of unnecessary introduction ‘Bill Ford.’
As the Ford photographer, I have been assigned to follow Bill as he tours various motor shows in Europe, visits the stands, tries out the vehicles, poses behind steering wheels. Perhaps contrary to what anyone would expect, Bill is never too busy to have his picture taken, or take time to talk with Ford employees and the public alike. He loves to just walk off away from the hubbub, visit the stands, with none other than his close protection, which by necessity, follows him everywhere. And sometimes, me.
Back in the days when Ford owned Aston Martin, Land Rover, Jaguar, Volvo, Mazda I was working with Bill at the vast Frankfurt Motor Show, and he decided to visit Aston, the only stand that was roped off and gated. At the entrance stood a very smart young man immaculate in his suit. His job to prevent the lower orders from entering.
Resolute in his very English voice, not even tempted to maybe address us in German (we were in Germany after all), the unfortunate and not very observant salesman gave us three a quick look over: Bill, his snapper, and the close protection, complete with ear piece secret service style in his left ear (a clue you might think, to our being a bit more than at first might meet the eye).
There and then, in that split second all nightclub bouncers revel in, Aston’s smart young lad decided we were not the sort of people to be allowed access. He extended a manicured hand towards the chest of William Clay Ford Jr.
“You can’t come in here, Sir, without an invite.”
With surprising speed our Ford security moved forward but was instantly checked by Bill with a barely perceptible wave of his hand. Then the great man whose family name was emblazoned on the ‘blue oval’ all around us, turned closely to the Aston stand staffer and said in his ear, almost in a whisper.
“That’s alright son, I’m Bill Ford and own the company.”