At Ford we were a proud team at a company ahead of its time

An extract from Jim Hayes’s biography, The Road From Harbour Hill: A Journey Of Dreams, published by iUniverse LLC Bloomington. 

My employment at Henry Ford & Son was the most important training experience of my professional life. What I learned there guided my career for the next 40 years.

I was taught many management accounting procedures. My inter-personal skills were sharpened. My knowledge of how small firms operated was heightened.

Professionalism in our dealer relationships was paramount. Each of us on the team was proud to be a Ford man. We were also proud that the father of the founder of Ford Motor Company was born and raised in a small village about 25 miles from Cork city.

All the senior management of Ford during my time there spent part of their careers in the Dagenham plant in England.

Tom Brennan was the Chairman and Managing Director. John O’Callaghan, Dominic Carey, John Wyer, Jerome Daly and Jack Fives were among the management team.

Though originating from the Cork area, many of them spoke with Dagenham-English accents.

At our monthly zone management meetings, there would be a gathering of about 40 executives to discuss the business of the month. Tom presided.

His first few utterances would be delivered in his best Dagenham-English. However, he soon lapsed into his old, flat Cork accent!

Jerome Daly, silver-haired, softly-spoken, tanned and middle-aged, the director of marketing, was responsible for my department. We met on Monday mornings before I departed for the country.

My immediate boss was Finbarr Kiely, a Cork city man who was witty, sharp and very good with numbers. He spoke quickly, and was always on top of his brief.

Finbarr met each business management advisor on a Monday for 45 minutes. He had a copy of a dealer’s financial statements each advisor had prepared the previous week and quizzed me on every line I had written. No matter how well I was prepared, he always caught me out on some omission or other.

“Why didn’t you ask him this?’’ he would say. Or, “Explain to me why those numbers do not add up’’. I always seemed to be lost for words, and would struggle through with my responses.

My first six months were spent on the road with my colleague, Charlie Ryan, who was assigned to give me on-the-job training.

Two days were spent with each dealer and management accounts were prepared, followed by meetings with the owner and his other department heads.

Operating statements were discussed for each department. Composite results from other similar-sized dealerships were used as a performance measurement for each dealership.

Ford’s accounting system was practical, and avoided conventional terminology. Sales were analysed by the numbers of deals made.

Profit was analysed by the number of washouts achieved. This was the everyday language of the motor dealer.

Break-even volumes and returns on investment were concepts that were stressed, advanced accounting ideas in the Ireland of the 1960s.

Ford were market leaders and the Ford main dealer was the largest business in many Irish towns. The relationship betrween us all was personal, built on trust.

This trust was underlined during a bank strike in the early 1970s when cars were released to dealers from the company without cheques, on my word.

The importance of relationship building, as well as good judgement and trust, was quickly learned by me during this period. When my training was over, I was on my own.

I was assigned about 20 dealerships nationwide, taking part of the territory that was managed by a colleague, Noel Bennett, who had formed a good friendship with a number of dealers in the midlands and had plenty of savvy.

I was quickly accepted. My work involved a great deal of travel on my own. It was a pleasure, sometimes, to bump into a Ford colleague.

Colleagues I remember by name include Terry Williamson, Andy Ahern and Vivian Harrison. They were on the sales team and each was a fascinating character.

Charlie Ryan, my training colleague, left Ford some years later, and established a successful dealership in Bandon.

Enda Hogan, another colleague, had spent some years as a clerical student in Maynooth University. Many years later, he joined Irish Permanent Building Society as a director.

Redmond O’Donoghue came under my wing for field training when he joined Ford. His career progressed quickly and he became Director of Sales.

He subsequently joined former Henry Ford & Son Chairman and Managing Director Paddy Hayes at Waterford Crystal and eventually became its Managing Director. Redmond is now Chairman of the Irish Tourism Board.

Eventually, when I was 28, my years at Ford ended and I joined McCairns Motors in Dublin as Development Manager.