Leading Ford Motor Company into the Future
Donald Petersen’s forward thinking and concern for customers helped bring Ford Motor Company to repeated profitability. Petersen was born in 1926 in Pipestone, Minnesota. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II and the Korean War before receiving a BSME from the University of Washington in 1946. He joined Ford in 1949 after receiving his MBA from Stanford University.
Petersen was a strong advocate of implementing new ideas at Ford. He introduced the concept of a product planning department and served as its manager during the 1960s. That department led to the development of the highly successful products like Mustang and Thunderbird. Petersen would also lead Ford’s resurgence during the 1980’s. Ford, like all U.S. car makers, had lost substantial sales to foreign manufacturers who were building cars that were higher quality, smaller, and more efficient. Petersen pushed for better products with stronger customer appeal, emphasizing the development of smaller, more efficient cars. His strong personal leadership was evident in the way he motivated his work force and fostered the team concept in product development and other job disciplines. Petersen was known for directing Ford’s design staff to design vehicles they would be proud to park in their driveways. It was Peterson’s foresight that gave birth to the sleek and aerodynamic Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable. The Taurus and Sable became two of the best-selling vehicles in the market, and helped fuel Ford’s continued success throughout the 1980’s.
Petersen was named Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Ford Motor Company in 1985. He was named the “Most Valuable Person” of 1988 by USA Today and “CEO of the Year” by Chief Executive magazine in 1989. His success prompted one industry observer to call Donald Petersen “Ford’s most successful boss since the original Henry in his prime.”