Two decades ago, when Bill Ford took the helm of his family’s auto company, he was ready to talk about the coming shift to electric vehicles and the eventual demise of car ownership.
His ideas were dismissed. At one point, when he wanted Ford Motor Co. F -0.27% to invest in developing alternative transportation, “the board kind of looked at me like once again I was over my ski tips,” Mr. Ford said in an interview.
As years went by, other auto makers and tech companies got on board with his way of thinking. They overtook Ford in electric and self-driving technologies, and in April, Tesla Inc., which sells stylish electric cars, passed Ford in investor value, a dashboard warning signaling Wall Street’s skepticism about the growth prospects of traditional car makers.
Ford was being left behind, and the man with his name on the door, who for years had largely deferred to management, decided to intervene.
In the past, the family heir let CEOs take the center stage. But what was leading the industry forward—new concepts in fuel efficiency and transportation—had been his focus for years. Plus, he was changing, spurred by the death in 2014 of his father, William Clay Ford Sr. , who was a presence at the company for more than 50 years.