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Former Ford CEO Philip Caldwell Dies at 93



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Posted: July 12, 2013 at 1:15 am

Philip Caldwell, the Ford Motor Co. CEO who led the company from 1979 to 1985 and championed the creation of the Ford Taurus, died on June 10 at his home in Connecticut from complications of a stroke.

Caldwell, 93, was the company’s first chief executive who was not a member of the Ford family. He succeeded Lee Iacocca as the company’s president in 1978 and became CEO a year later when Henry Ford II relinquished that title. Ford turned over the title of chairman to Caldwell in 1980.

He shepherded the company through several difficult challenges, including safety issues with the Pinto and an energy crisis that caused Ford sales to plunge 45%. Caldwell has been credited with steering the company from a $1.5 billion net loss in 1980 to a $2.9 billion profit in 1984.

Caldwell, an Ohio native, was on the staff of U.S. Admiral Chester Nimitz during World War II. He joined Ford in 1953, spending his early years there in purchasing, engineering and manufacturing. By 1960, he was a manager in the truck product planning division.

Caldwell became general manager of truck operations in 1968 and was named chief of international operations in 1973. He gained a reputation as a low-key executive with a knack for turning around troubled units.

As CEO Caldwell took a $3 billion gamble on the Taurus, a shockingly curvaceous sedan for its time. The car debuted in 1985 shortly before his retirement.

The bet paid off. Taurus led Ford’s turnaround, went on to become the best-selling car in America and triggered an Industrywide shift from boxy to flowing vehicle exteriors. Caldwell attributed the Taurus’ success to a design that came from car experts instead of top executives.

After retiring from Ford, Caldwell remained on the board for five years. He joined Lehman Brothers as senior managing director and served on the board of trustees at his alma mater, Ohio’s Muskingum University.