William Clay Ford: A Respected Company, Community and Sports Leader

William Clay Ford's long career with Ford Motor Company included personal triumphs in design and strategy; outside of the company, he is a respected leader in the community and in sports. 

A Prestigious Career

The youngest of Edsel and Eleanor Clay Ford's four children, William Clay Ford was born on March 14, 1925. Following a tour of duty with the U.S. Naval Air Corps in World War II, he enrolled at Yale, where he was an accomplished athlete. 

After graduating from Yale with a bachelor of science degree in economics, Mr. Ford joined Ford Motor Company’s sales and advertising staff. He later served on the industrial relations staff, where he was a member of the committee that negotiated the historic 1949 contract with the UAW-CIO.

When the design committee of the company’s policy and strategy committee was formed in 1957, Mr. Ford became the committee’s first chairman, a post he held until retirement in 1989.

Throughout his career he oversaw the design and development of a number of classic vehicles, including the Continental Mark II, considered by many to be one of the greatest cars ever built. He was appointed vice president–Product Design in 1973.

In 1978, Mr. Ford was elected chairman of the executive committee and appointed a member of the office of the chief executive. He was elected vice chairman of the board in 1980 and chairman of the finance committee in 1987. He retired from his post as vice chairman in 1989 and as chairman of the finance committee in 1995.

Committed to Detroit

William Clay Ford’s relationship with the Detroit Lions began during his childhood when his father, Edsel Ford, took him to the University of Detroit Stadium to see the first Lions’ team play in their maiden season in the Motor City in 1934. In November 1963, Mr. Ford purchased the team outright for $4.5 million. The 2007 season marked the 44th year of Mr. Ford’s sole ownership of the club.

Further evidence of Mr. Ford’s commitment to Detroit can be found in the Lions’ return “home” to a new downtown Detroit stadium, Ford Field, in 2002. The $500 million stadium became the overwhelming factor in Detroit being awarded the right to host Super Bowl XL in February 2006. That championship game was a $260 million boost to metro Detroit, and the impact the Ford family had on bringing the Super Bowl to Detroit was apparent.

In May 2003, The Detroit News honored Mr. Ford as a Michiganian of the Year for 2003, an annual tribute to select citizens who made significant contributions to the state or local community. In September 2005, he was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.

Continued Involvement

William Clay Ford is chairman emeritus of the board of trustees of The Henry Ford. He is an honorary life trustee of the Eisenhower Medical Center, is a national trustee for the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of America and honorary chair of the United Way Community Services. He is also on the Texas Heart Institute National Advisory Council. Mr. Ford received an honorary doctor of science degree from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, in 1981.

Mr. Ford’s generosity as a benefactor was recognized in 1997, as the outdoor courts of the University of Michigan’s new tennis center were named in his honor. An addition to Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital opened in 1996—The William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine, a leading sports medicine treatment and research institution in the country.

Mr. Ford is married to the former Martha Firestone of Akron, Ohio. They are the parents of three daughters—Martha, Sheila and Elizabeth—and a son, William Clay Ford, Jr., who serves as the Lions’ vice chairman, in addition to his role as executive chairman of Ford Motor Company.