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: Detroit News: Ford family unity tested

05-08-2007, 12:01 PM (

Ford family unity tested
Heirs reject hiring Wall Street adviser at tense meeting over what to do about ailing automaker's future.
Bill Vlasic and Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

DEARBORN -- With the Ford Motor Co. mired in a dangerous decline, Ford family members gathered April 21 for a critical meeting on the company's future and their role as controlling shareholders of one of America's last great industrial dynasties.
But this gathering, held at Greenfield Village not far from Ford's world headquarters, was quite different from previous family summits because of the presence of two of Wall Street's hottest dealmakers, Joseph Perella and Peter Weinberg.
The Detroit News has learned that Ford family members invited Perella and Weinberg and considered hiring them to advise the family about its huge stock holdings in Ford Motor -- a clear sign of growing concern about the automaker's long-term prospects.
At the end of the meeting, the family voted not to hire Perella Weinberg Partners as independent outside advisers.
But with their stock sinking in value and the automaker on the skids as shareholders convene Thursday in Wilmington, Del., for their annual meeting, the Ford family's resolve to retain its 103-year ownership position is being tested as never before.
People close to the situation told The News that the tense meeting highlighted differences within the family, particularly between Ford Motor Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. and his older sister, Sheila Hamp, and her husband, Steven Hamp, who became Bill Ford Jr.'s chief-of-staff in 2005 and left the company last year.
The Hamps, along with family adviser Bruce Blythe, were said to support the hiring of Perella Weinberg, whose principles have a track record of arranging blockbuster corporate mergers and acquisitions.
Some opposed advisers
Bill Ford opposed bringing outsiders into the family's secretive strategic discussions, as did his cousin, Ford Motor director Edsel B. Ford II. He was out of the country, but outlined his views in a two-page letter to family members, according to people familiar with the events.
Bill Ford's father, family patriarch William Clay Ford Sr., also rejected the idea of hiring outside investment bankers. Another prominent family member, Ford Motor executive Elena Ford, was said to have offered to buy the stock of any relative interested in selling out.
A Ford Motor spokesman said Monday that the company would have no comment on the family meeting. Bill Ford was also unavailable for comment.
However, in response to inquiries from The News about the family meeting, the automaker arranged an interview in which Steven Hamp offered his version of events.
Hamp, the former president of the Henry Ford complex, left his position last year as Bill Ford's chief of staff after the hiring of CEO Alan Mulally. Hamp said the April 21 meeting was a "dialog" about the company, but not a showdown on whether to sell it.
"Nobody said they were interested in selling -- that just simply did not come up," he said.
But he said that some Ford family members wanted an open forum on the company's performance and the value of the family's 40-percent voting stake.

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