The Whiz Kids were ten United States Army Air Forces veterans of World War II who became Ford Motor Company executives in 1946.
They were led by their commanding officer, Charles B. "Tex" Thornton. The others were:
- Wilbur Andreson — left after two years to return to California and became an executive with Bekins Van Lines
- Charles Bosworth, retired as director of purchasing.
- J. Edward Lundy, retired as chief financial officer — he remained at Ford through the 1970s and was known as one of the most powerful people in the company and as a confidant of Henry Ford II.
- Robert S. McNamara, who eventually became the president of Ford. He then became the Secretary of Defense and the President of the World Bank.
- Arjay Miller, rose through finance and became Ford president in the mid 1960s. After being dismissed in favor of Bunkie Knudsen, an executive recruited from General Motors, he became the dean of the Stanford Business School.
- Ben Mills, became general manager of Lincoln-Mercury Division.
- George Moore, left after two years to become an automobile dealer.
- Francis "Jack" Reith, became head of Ford of France and was a rising star. Subsequently he was the executive responsible for the Mercury Turnpike Cruiser and heavily involved in the Edsel, both sales failures. Reith left the company to run the Crosley Division of Avco, and committed suicide a few years later.
- James Wright, eventually head of Ford division and the car and truck group. Retired in the early 1960s after a power struggle with executive John Dykstra.
The group was part of a management science operation within the Army Air Force known as Statistical Control, organized to coordinate all the operational and logistical information required to manage the waging of war. Thornton had been recommended to the assistant secretary of War, Robert A. Lovett, by a mutual acquaintance who thought Lovett would find use for the ambitious and energetic Thornton. Upon finding mass confusion, Thornton developed the idea of an information gathering organization within the service and gained Lovett's support to create the organization, which recruited and trained numerous officer candidates who were selected through intelligence testing. After the war, some of the group discussed opportunities to go into business together.
Thornton wrote to several corporations, offering their services as a group — all ten, or nothing. Henry Ford II had recently taken over the company from his ailing grandfather and, needing management help badly, accepted their offer.
Starting at Ford
The group initially worked together as one organization, the planning department, headed by Thornton. McNamara was Thornton's deputy; Miller focused on reports for senior management, Lundy on financial planning, Mills on facility and program plans, Reith on administrative budgets, and Wright, Moore and Bosworth on administrative issues. Over a few years, they all attracted favorable attention for their work and began to move on to other assignments.
Seven of the ten went on to senior management positions. Thornton left Ford in 1948 due to personality conflicts with executives Ernie Breech and Lewis Crusoe, moving on to Hughes Aircraft, and later was head of Litton Industries.
The "Whiz Kids" helped the company to implement sophisticated management control systems in order to govern the company, keep costs in line, and review strategic progress. They also instituted modern recruitment and training programs and career planning aimed to provide Ford Motors with a financial talent pool.
Links and Reference
- Detroit News article
- J. Edward Lundy bio in Automotive Hall of Fame
- McNamara interview
- The Whiz Kids: How 10 Men Saved America (and Then Almost Destroyed It)
- "The Whiz Kids" by John A. Byrne, 1993, ISBN 0-385-24804-0
- Ford executives