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The last of the non-Ford Chairmen. Groomed Nasser (ugh) for Chairman, but Nasser only got CEO.

Ex-Ford chairman Trotman dies at 71

Longtime executive led controversial restructuring, clashed with Ford family.

By Eric Mayne / The Detroit News


Former Ford Motor Co. Chairman and CEO Alex Trotman, who led the automaker to record profits in the 1990s before clashing with the Ford family over his successor, died Monday in England after a brief illness. He was 71.

The last non-Ford family member to serve as chairman, Trotman took over in 1993 as the automaker was coming off huge losses.

Two years later, Trotman launched Ford 2000, an ambitious and controversial plan to consolidate the Dearborn-based automaker's North American and European operations.

Under Ford 2000, the company cut $5 billion in costs by sharing more engines, transmissions and other parts between cars and trucks, and by getting better prices from suppliers.

Ford, taking full advantage of the SUV boom in the United States, posted a $7 billion profit in 1997.

Despite the successes, Ford 2000 was virtually abandoned because it centralized power and caused internal rifts.

Trotman's career spanned 43 years, and in 1996 he was knighted by England's Queen Elizabeth II.

"Alex was a great friend, colleague and leader of the extended family of Ford employees around the world," Ford Chairman and CEO Bill Ford Jr. said.

"He was the driving force behind a vast array of visionary changes in Ford Motor Co.'s global management and innovative products."

Born in England and educated in Scotland, Trotman joined Ford in 1955 after a stint with the Royal Air Force. By 1967, he was director of Ford of Europe's car product planning office, where he helped guide development of several successful cars.

"He was a terrific product person," said Allan Gilmour, Ford's former vice chairman who worked with Trotman.

Gilmour said Trotman had a keen eye for what the customer wanted, but "at the same time he had a strong sense that it had to be profitable."

In 1969, Trotman was moved to Dearborn to work on advanced car products. A year later, he was named manager of Lincoln-Mercury's product planning department.

He was named to lead Ford Asia-Pacific as president in 1983 and became president of Ford Europe a year later.

In May 1989, he was appointed executive vice president of Ford's North American automotive operations. Four years later, he became chairman and CEO, succeeding Harold "Red" Poling.

As chairman, Trotman helped oversee the 1996 redesign of the Ford Taurus, then the nation's best-selling midsize sedan. But the vehicle was panned.

Gilmour said it's unfair to blame Trotman for the Taurus.

"There were plenty of other people who were in the decision-making process beyond him," Gilmour said.

As Trotman's retirement approached in December 1998, he made little secret that he opposed the idea of a Ford family member running the global automaker. "Trotman was not really a Ford family man," Charlotte Ford, Bill Ford's cousin, was quoted as saying in a Fortune magazine article published in 2000.

He had groomed Jacques Nasser to replace him as chairman and CEO. After it became clear that Bill Ford Jr. would become chairman in January 1999 and Nasser would get only the CEO title, a bitter Trotman told Bill Ford: "So now you have your monarchy back, Prince William," according to Fortune.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. You can reach Eric Mayne at (313) 222-2443 or [email protected].
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