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Executive Suite: A Car Buff Takes the Wheel

1 minute read

In one of the most striking design shifts in modern automotive history, Ford Motor two years ago traded in its boxy styling for the rounded forms of its current new cars. The sleek redesign has been a hit in the showroom, and last week Ford named Donald Petersen, 58, who championed the new shapes, to succeed the retiring Philip Caldwell as chairman next Feb. 1. Executive Vice President Harold Poling, 59, will replace Petersen as president.

Petersen, an engineer by training and a member of Mensa, the high-IQ society, has spent much of his 35-year Ford career planning new autos. A dedicated car buff, he startled fellow executives two years ago by taking a performance-driving course from Grand Prix Driver Bob Bondurant. More than 100 of his colleagues have since followed that lead to improve their knowledge of car handling.

Corporate infighting and battles for succession have been common at Ford Motor. Henry Ford was forced to step down as head of the company at 82 after a bitter struggle, and Henry Ford II had trouble with several heirs apparent before he finally gave way to Caldwell in 1980. The Caldwell-to-Petersen move could be the first smooth transfer of power in Ford history.

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