The Lies That Influenced U.S. Presidents Over Decades. Robert McNamara was born in San Francisco, California. His father was Robert James McNamara, sales manager of a wholesale shoe company, and his mother was Clara Nell McNamara (née Strange). His father's family was Irish and, in about 1850, following the Great Irish Famine, had emigrated to the U.S., first to Massachusetts and later to California. He graduated from Piedmont High School in Piedmont in 1933, where he was president of the Rigma Lions boys club and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. McNamara attended the University of California, Berkeley and graduated in 1937 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics with minors in mathematics and philosophy. He was a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa his sophomore year, and earned a varsity letter in crew. McNamara was also a member of the UC Berkeley's Order of the Golden Bear which was a fellowship of students and leading faculty members formed to promote leadership within the student body. He then attended Harvard Business School and earned an MBA in 1939.
In 1946, Charles "Tex" Thornton, a colonel under whom McNamara had served, put together a group of officers from his AAF Statistical Control operation to go into business together. Thornton had seen an article in Life magazine portraying Ford as being in dire need of reform. Henry Ford II, himself a World War II veteran from the Navy, hired the entire group of 10, including McNamara.
The "Whiz Kids", as they came to be known, helped the money-losing company reform its chaotic administration through modern planning, organization, and management control systems. The origins of the phrase "The Whiz Kids" can be explained as follows. Because of their youth, combined with asking lots of questions, Ford employees initially and disparagingly, referred to them as the "Quiz Kids". The Quiz Kids rebranded themselves as the "Whiz Kids". Starting as manager of planning and financial analysis, he advanced rapidly through a series of top-level management positions.
McNamara was a force behind the Ford Falcon sedan, introduced in the fall of 1959—a small, simple and inexpensive-to-produce counter to the large, expensive vehicles prominent in the late 1950s. McNamara placed a high emphasis on safety: the Lifeguard options package introduced the seat belt (a novelty at the time) and a dished steering wheel, which helped to prevent the driver from being impaled on the steering column.
After the Lincoln line's very large 1958, 1959, and 1960 models proved unpopular, McNamara pushed for smaller versions, such as the 1961 Lincoln Continental.
On November 9, 1960, McNamara became the first president of Ford Motor Company from outside the Ford family.
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