Who would have thought that Ford Motor Co., the legacy of that great American Henry Ford, would be heading deep "south" in the profit and loss arena of the automobile industry?
Ford is almost synonymous with Americana, especially Black Americana. The founder, Henry Ford, was a great friend of Black scientist and entrepreneur George Washington Carver. He admired and supported George Washington Carver so much that when the entrepreneur died, Ford had his childhood home moved to his Dearborn Museum. It stands there today. That friendship has led to very generous and continuous support of the Tuskegee Institute by the Ford Foundation.
Ford Motor Co. also led the way in Black employment within corporate America. Blacks in Detroit, Cleveland and other auto cities prospered through steady employment and opportunity. There are hundreds of thousands of Black middle-class families that can speak of Ford with pride and gratitude. That has translated into college education and opportunities that were totally elusive to Black masses before the rise of Ford Motor Co. and other entities of the same ilk.
Today, Ford is getting beat up badly from competition. While the automobile industry is healthy per se, American-born companies are missing the wants and needs of American consumers. Ford has done the worst in this area. It is selling fewer cars, closing plants, releasing employees and losing money at record numbers. This is terrible and will require Ford to become ever dependent on that steady customer base it is used to – Black America. It is the Black dollar that is approaching nearly $1 trillion annually that may determine whether Ford survives or not. The future of that legacy of partnership is at risk.
During the last few decades Ford has been less than a partner or friend to Black dealers. The complaints have been consistent and, in fact, growing more and more. It is time for this company to return to its roots and begin treating Black dealerships with compassion and a level playing field.
Ford has consistently put new Black dealers out into the "boonies." These rural and mostly White markets have less of a chance for success versus an urban market. The odds are stacked against the young Black entrepreneur from the beginning. The National Black Chamber of Commerce has formed a committee to look into this to determine how much of a racial pattern there is. We believe it is shocking and intentional.
We have also learned that Ford doesn't fully share its financial information before closing a deal with a prospective Black franchisee, counter to Federal Trade Commission regulation. They also block new franchisees from having their attorneys and accountants review the purchase contracts prior to investing in the dealership with Ford.
There are many other peculiar happenings that Ford has laid on Black dealers that amount to their lack of success. We are going to add all this up and come to a final conclusion. If that conclusion equates to what we initially perceive — discriminatory practices against Black entrepreneurs — we will demand change. Change will help level the playing field and increase the chance of success for upcoming Black dealers. It will also ensure that the long legacy of partnership with Ford and Black America is not spoiled and lost forever. In these troubled times Ford had best "recognize."
Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.