Phillip Caldwell
BOB20 phillip caldwell
Caldwell at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich., in 1993

Ford CEO 1980-85

Lutz says: "Hard to like and deprived of nearly any sense of humor, he gained respect for his focus on quality and product excellence."

Lutz grade: 241

Despite spending much time with Phil Caldwell, in groups as well as one-on-one, the feeling of unease in his presence never left me. Phil was a teetotaler. No wine, spirits, beer, coffee, or tea. I got used to his disdain for alcohol. Whenever the server asked about a predinner cocktail, Phil always demurred. His answer, unfailingly, was "Go right ahead if you feel you need it." The effect was that I no longer wanted to drink, since I didn't want to appear an addict.

Phil was not one to throw in the towel in discussions. Once I delivered a two-hour presentation on a new truck program. We had not counted on Phil's near insatiable appetite for detail, as well as his manifest need to be perceived as a major expert in the commercial vehicle field. I couldn't get through the presentation, being constantly stopped. Phil drilled through stratum upon stratum of my then-considerable knowledge of what we were doing, why, and against whom, relentlessly bombarding me with ever more arcane questions. Finally, there was a reminder we had a dinner reservation. Phil Caldwell reluctantly declared a truce and said we would continue this vital dialogue some other time (which never came).

It would be tempting to dismiss Caldwell as a sort of corporate Captain Queeg: petty, focused on personal prestige, uncaring about his subordinates, and given to poor business judgment. [But] that would be the wrong conclusion. While lacking any real operational or "car guy" interests or skills, and being overly passionate about getting more data to support eminently logical decisions, Caldwell had one powerful sense of purpose that overrode his many quirks and foibles: He was totally focused on making Ford (F, Fortune 500) the quality leader of the world. He teetered on obsession. But when it came to quality, it took an obsessive personality to energize a culture raised on "nobody's perfect."


  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated June 04 2013 07:34 AM ET
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