Institutional Memory

Dig Henry Ford's soy suit

One of the saddest things about the recent downsizing in the automotive industry is that a lot of core people who knew a tremendous amount about the company for which they worked are now either working somewhere else, retired, or on the unemployment line.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a number of great folks who spent decades working behind the scenes at various manufacturers, only to find themselves out of a job, despite the fact that they still hold the keys to a treasure trove of information about their former employers.

It’s called “institutional memory,” and losing it is no different than the CEO throwing a match over his shoulder and burning his collection of vintage cars to the ground.

If you think institutional memory doesn’t matter, have a gander at these press releases from Ford:

A couple of nice little pieces on the use of soy products in Ford’s new 2011 Explorer. No harm in that, right?

Had anybody who spent any time with Ford written them, though, they might have made note of the fact that Henry Ford was THE pioneer in using soy products in the automotive industry. A decade before our entry into the second World War, Henry Ford was using a soy-based enamel paint, and packing 60 pounds worth of soy products into every single car Ford built.

People laughed at him. There were editorial cartoons devoted to making fun of him. It didn’t matter. In this article from Modern Mechanix in 1934, Ford goes on at length to explain his commitment to the lowly bean:

And it turns out that ol’ Hank was right on the money. He not only laid the groundwork for the use of soy in everything from milk to car seats, he was instrumental in lifting America’s impoverished farmers out of the Great Depression.  Soy made Ford an industrial powerhouse.

You’d think that somebody would’ve made note of that fact somewhere in this release. But it reads as if Ford’s commitment to soy products is something new, instead of being part and parcel of its history as an industrial giant.



About Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald is an automotive writer, photographer and editor with credits in Hemmings Motor New, the Boston Globe, Forbes, the Washington Post, Esquire and
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