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Robert McNamara a Car Guy? Could Be

Architect of Viet Nam War helped reshape Ford.

by on Jul.08, 2009

While Robery S. McNamara - shown here with then-President Lyndon Johnson - was best known for his role in the Vietnam War, he earlier earned a reputation as one of the "Whiz Kids" who saved Ford Motor Co.

While Robery McNamara, right, with President Lyndon Johnson, was best known for his role in the Vietnam War, he earlier earned a reputation as one of the "Whiz Kids" who saved Ford Motor Company.

Robert S. McNamara died earlier this week at his home in Washington, D.C., at the age of 93. Most of the obituaries ramble on at length about his service of Secretary of Defense during the early years of the Vietnam War — which came to be known, by many, as “McNamara’s War.”

But I want to tell you about his career at Ford Motor Company and argue why I think he could be considered a “car guy” long before his reputation was besmirched by the culture wars growing out of America’s ill-fated adventure in southeast Asia.

McNamara came to Ford in 1946 as one of ten “Whiz Kids” of former Army Air Force statistical analysis and control officers, offered as a package to Henry Ford II who was struggling to rebuild the company after World War II. At the same time, the Deuce was hiring a bunch of dead-ended but highly competent GM executives led by Ernie Breech and engaging in Ford’s first college graduate recruitment program, which yielded Lee Iacocca.

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