• U.S.

Autos: Patience Rewarded

2 minute read

Lee lacocca thought he had it made. After slogging his way up from sales trainee to vice president at age 36, he masterminded Ford Motor Co.’s happy successes with the Mustang and the Maverick. So lacocca figured that he was a cinch to take over the president’s chair when Arjay Miller stepped down three years ago. But then a gray-haired 55-year-old named Semon E. Knudsen got passed over for his dad’s old job as president of General Motors. Henry Ford II snapped up Knudsen for the Ford job and let lacocca wait.

After 19 months of valiantly trying to adjust to Ford Motor’s more freewheeling style of management, Knudsen was fired. This time Henry Ford split the job of president into three parts and gave lacocca only one of them, with the ponderous title of executive vice president of Ford Motor Co. and president of Ford North American Automotive Operations.

lacocca waited for 15 more months as a member of the new ruling troika. Last week he finally got the job he wanted. Henry Ford announced that the marketing whiz, now 46, would become the sole president of Ford Motor. Henry Ford, who remains chief executive officer and undisputed boss, plans to spend more time developing overseas opportunities for the company. William Innes, vice president for manufacturing, will move up to lacocca’s old job as domestic auto chief.

Ford Motor could not have picked a more crucial moment to tap lacocca’s well-incubated talents. Despite the company’s present good fortune with the Maverick and the Pinto, profits are being squeezed hard by rising costs and Government pressure for safety and antipollution development. Just after his appointment. lacocca declined a $100 bet on whether Henry Ford’s prediction of a 9.7-million-car year was possible in 1971. “Consumers have the money,” he said, “but in their present mood it is doubtful that they will spend it. We have just finished an auto strike, and the steel industry is unsettled. There is certainly no impetus to spend money.”

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