It’s a car thing. I love them, I love talking about them, I love driving them; I’m just a car guy.
On November 9, 1960, Robert McNamara became the first non-Ford family member to become the head of Ford Motor Company.
That’s a pretty big deal, the Fords were a tight outfit!
Prior to that, he served the country during World War II as Lt. Col in the US Army Air Force. After the war, in 1946, Tex Thornton, his colonel, culled the best officers from his AAF Control operation to start a business. McNamara was in that group.
Thornton read an article in Life Magazine that claimed Ford Motor Company was in “dire need” of help, and Henry Ford II, also a vet from WW II hired Thornton’s group to restructure the company.
They shook things UP, changed policy and procedure, and asked so many questions, they earned the nickname of “The Quiz Kids”.
I’m sure there were others; but no one’s talkin’.
Ford was bleeding cash at that time, and the Whiz Kids worked on the outfit’s less than modern system of organization, management, control systems, and planning.
Rebranding themselves as “The Whiz Kids”, they backed UP their new name with results.
McNamara moved UP quickly from manager of planning and financial analysis to several top-drawer assignments.
His innovative thinking helped Ford enter the compact race with the Ford Falcon, which became a hit.
He also pushed safety as a car concept.
He created the “Lifeguard” package of options which introduced the seat-belt (my sister just quit reading now, and has a new villain) which was a “novelty” at the time. It also included a steering wheel design that prevented the driver from being impaled in an accident.
But, a month after his appointment to the top job at Ford, newly elected JFK came calling, and McNamara was tapped to be the eighth secretary of defense.
McNamara remains the longest serving Secretary of Defense. He stayed in the job for seven years, working for both JFK and LBJ.
He became more and more controversial in the mid 60s, and his clashes with LBJ and most notably, the Joint Chiefs of Staff over Viet Nam became headlines.
His suggestions that the US freeze troop size, stop bombing North Viet Nam, and relinquish the fighting on the ground to the South Vietnamese nationals were “rejected outright” by LBJ.
A few days later, November 29, he announced his resignation stating he’d accepted the Presidency of the World Bank.
McNamara went on to accomplish much more at the bank and in his retirement, but will forever be associated with the escalation and de-escalation of the Southeast Asian Conflict.
But, in reality, he was a car guy.