Born in Pipestone, Minnesota, Mr. Petersen served in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II and the Korean War. He received his BSME from the University of Washington in 1946 and joined Ford in 1949 after receiving his MBA from Stanford University.
Donald E. Petersen became Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Ford Motor Company on February 1, 1985. Prior to his election as Chairman, Mr. Petersen was President and COO (Chief Operating Officer) from March 13, 1980. He was a member of the Board of Directors from September 8, 1977 until his retirement in February 1990.
Hailed a "Most Valuable Person" of 1988 by USA Today and "CEO of the Year" by Chief Executive magazine in 1989, Petersen transformed Ford with his inclusive, team-oriented management style.
Mr. Petersen was famously known for instructing the Ford design staff to design vehicles they would be proud to buy and park in their own driveways. This change in philosophy came about after he was answered in the negative as he inquired of a Ford designer whether he was proud of the design he was working on. This watershed event culminated in the groundbreaking and wildly successful design of the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable twins which pulled Ford out of its financial doldrums of the early 1980's and provided the motivation and profit which carried Ford for the next decade.
Mr. Petersen's relationship with members of the founding Ford family became strained after he opposed the nomination of founder Henry Ford's great-grandsons, Edsel Buell Ford II ("Edsel") and William Clay Ford Jr. ("Billy", "Bill Jr.", and later just "Bill") to certain committees of the board of Ford in the wake of the death of family patriarch and former Ford Chairman & CEO Henry Ford II in 1987. The widening of this schism later cut short Mr. Petersen's tenure at Ford, after a high-profile and public disagreement spilled over into the press regarding differences in strategic direction between Mr. Peterson and the members of the Ford family. These differences were largely due to Mr. Petersen's purchase of the bankrupt Jaguar Cars company after a bidding war between Ford and General Motors. In the years since, Ford contributed major managerial resources to and several times recapitalized Jaguar with no subsequent return of investment. Ford eventually divested itself of the Jaguar asset on June 2, 2008. He was succeeded by Harold "Red" Poling.
Mr. Petersen has, at various times, held director-level board positions at The Boeing Company, Dow Jones & Co., the Hewlett-Packard Company, Capital Research and Management Company (mutual funds), Axicon Technologies, Juran Center for Leadership in Quality (Member, Exec. Advisory Board), College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Washington (President, Advisory Board) and Long Shadows Vintners.
Mr. Petersen and his wife, Jo Anne, reside in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Seattle, Washington, and Montecito, California. They have two children, Leslie Price (who was born in 1956), and Donald L. Petersen (who was born in 1958). Leslie Price has a daughter named Joanne Lembeck.
|Chief Executive Officer of the Ford Motor Company
1985 — 1989
Harold Arthur Poling