Ford, Dearborn, and fruitful ties

Movers, Makers, Shakers
J.J. Calero

Posted on February 12, 2015

MY RELATIONSHIP with Ford began in 1958 when I joined J. Walter Thompson (JWT). For some unknown reason, one of the first accounts assigned to me was that of the Ford Motor Company.

In 1942, JWT won the account worldwide. Though it wasn’t the biggest worldwide account we had, I was told it was the most important. This was exemplified to me via a story which, whether apocryphal or true, is not important, since it made its point:

The phone rings on JWT Chairman Stan Resor’s direct line. “Stan, this is Henry.” (Henry was Henry Ford II, grandson of Henry Ford and then chairman of the Ford Motor Company.) “Yes, Mr. Ford, what can I do for you?” (In those days there were no cameras to show Mr. Resor standing at attention, which he was!) “What time is it?” What time do you want it to be, Mr. Ford?” was his reply.

That story made its point. Ford was an important client for JWT!

I still remember doing some research on Manila Trading, then the principal dealer of Ford, even if JWT Philippines did not yet handle the business. Manila Trading or Mantrade, as it was eventually branded, had had dealership connections with Ford since 1918. P.E. Domingo, a local advertising agency, had the account. JWT Philippines started doing business in the Philippines in 1947. Ford was ahead of JWT by almost 30 years!

I got to know Manila Trading well and dealt directly with their President Jack Manning, one of the three dealer principals. I wanted to learn what corporate directives should be incorporated in their local adverting. For more about Mantrade’s history, I refer you to Carolyn Manning, Jack’s widow, who knows more about the company than anyone I know.

In 1968, in his quest to expand the Philippine economy, President Ferdinand E. Marcos won over Henry Ford II. He did this by gladly consenting to inaugurate the Ford automotive assembly plant in Sucat, Las Piñas. Our then First Lady, Imelda R. Marcos, worked her charms by inviting Christina Ford to her special tent in Persepolis when Muammar Gaddafi was proclaimed President of Libya. From that point on, Ford Philippines was firing on all cylinders.

In 1971 the Fiera, the first-ever utility vehicle made in Asia, was launched. For that occasion, no less than JWT Chairman Bert Manning (no relation to Jack Manning of Mantrade) and a Mr. Molina, then the third highest ranking Ford executive, came for the launch. Unfortunately, the Fiera was found to be lacking in safety devices and was abandoned as a project, but not before Toyota, who bought the first five Fiera units from Ford, quickly copied the concept. Today, Toyota AUVs rule our roads!

Unfortunately, Ford left the Philippines in 1984 because the then Minister of Trade and Industry, despite Ford’s assembly plant being a sizeable investment in those days, would not recognize it as part of a Ford Southeast Asian Complementation Program.

By the time Ford decided to return to the Philippines, it was hard-pressed to look for dealers. Knowing this, I spoke with my brother-in-law, Maxcy Borromeo, about approaching them for a possible dealership. Maxcy and his family had had many years of experience in the automobile and motorcycle industries. And I had retired from JWT.

It started with a meeting with Dave Gutman (vice-president of sales and marketing for Ford Philippines), Maxcy and me at the Jeepney Bar of the Intercontinental Hotel in Makati.

Dave presented a business model wherein there would be a limited number of dealers that would represent Ford products in the Philippines. He had divided the country into five areas, each to be operated by a dealer group. If selected, Maxcy was told he would have a chance at expanding in an area.

Gutman persuaded Maxcy to take on Alabang, as their prospective dealer had declined their invitation. He also made a strong case for south of Luzon with Alabang and the Visayas starting with Cebu. The only caveat he had was that Maxcy had to be approved by Ford Global, which would do due diligence on financial capabilities, character, etc. Maxcy was then asked to sign a letter of intent together with an authority to Philippine financial institutions that allowed Ford through an international third party to check on his capability of becoming a Ford dealer. After the letter was signed, Maxcy, received calls from the credit investigation group of Ford Motor Company asking for personal details and confirming whatever information that they had gathered.

He obviously passed their criteria, because soon after he was asked to make a business plan for Cebu and Alabang.

Dearborn Motors opened a temporary showroom for Ford Cebu in 1999 and architectural plans for Alabang were made by no less than the architects of the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. It was to be unique and the grandest in the Philippines. The local Ford management went overboard in their desire to create a real impact for their reentry in the Philippine market, and what was supposed to be an investment of a million and a half dollars then ballooned to almost double the amount.

In order to make the opening really big, the local management headed by Terry Emerick invited Jac Nasser, president of the Ford Motor Company, to grace the inauguration.

In December 2014, Ford Alabang, the original flagship of the Dearborn Group, opened its doors to a new Ford Alabang store. It is one of the biggest in ASEAN and the biggest in the Philippines. No less than Elena Ford, a member of the Ford family and great-granddaughter of Henry Ford, came to the Philippines to be present in the opening. She is currently a vice-president of the Ford Motor Company and is responsible for dealers and customer experience globally.

As I was putting this article together I was told that Andre Borromeo, Maxcy’s fourth son, was named a 2015 Salute to Dealers Honoree, for exhibiting unparalleled giving, dedication and leadership in their communities (referring to the work he did at Ford Tacloban, immediately after Yolanda hit). Only six other dealer principals received the award worldwide out of 8,500 Ford dealer principals globally.

This is the first time the Philippines has been bestowed such an award.

Javier Calero is the chairman of Full Circle, Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of UA&P and the Chairman of Tambuli Awards