Rhys M. Sale Becomes President & CEO of Ford of Canada
When he retired as Chairman of the Board of Ford of Canada in 1962, the tall, athletic figure of Rhys Manly Sale had been a part of the growth of the company for 47 years.
Those 47 years had seen him rise from an eighteen year old clerk in the accounting department in 1915 to become Chief Executive Officer of a company whose interests and holdings spanned the free world . Those 47 years had also seen many challenges faced and overcome by a man who always put the betterment and growth of the company above his own private feelings.
The first thing most people ask about Rhys Sale is the proper pronunciation of his name. He was named for the first King of Wales, and the gaelic pronunciation of his name is "Reece". Born in Windsor on March 5,1897, he was the son of John Sale, a prominent lawyer.Like many young men of his time, he was a "doer" and preferred tinkering in a basement workshop with boats and engine parts to studying. Although he finished High School in Windsor, it was not until later on in his career that he broadened his formal education by taking correspondence courses and attending night school.
He started working at 16, first as a junior clerk with the First National bank in Detroit, and then with the Imperial Bank in Windsor. At the age of 18, in October 1915, he joined Ford of Canada, then a booming company that had been established for eleven years. He started out in a very junior position in the accounting department, making the princely sum of 21 cents an hour, but his rise through the ranks was interrupted by World War 1. He was a lieutenant in the 241st Battalion Canadian Scottish Boarders (a predecessor Regiment to the famed Essex Scottish), the youngest officer in its history at age 20, and was sent overseas in 1916 and 1917 as a munitions expert. His Commanding Officer was Lieutenant Colonel Walter McGregor, brother of the founder of Ford of Canada.
Upon his discharge in 1918, Rhys Sale returned to Ford of Canada, and worked in the accounting department as before, but seized on a chance to go to Australia in 1924 to assist in the organization of the newly-established, wholly-owned subsidiary of Ford of Canada, Ford Motor Company of Australia. For a young man with ambition, the ground-up development of the new company must have been a wonderful broadening experience, and this trait of seeking out and facing new challenges seems to have been one that stayed with Rhys Sale all his life. He had married the former Alma MacDonald in 1916, before being shipped overseas, and a son and a daughter were soon added to their family. The challenge for Mrs. Sale must have been quite different, as Australia was a long way from home and roots for a young mother with two small children to raise.
The Australian experience proved to be a brilliant career move, as upon his return in 1926 Rhys Sale became assistant export manager at Ford of Canada. A scant three years later he was appointed assistant sales manager, and by 1939 was sales manager. The intervention of another World War brought another career move, this time to London, England to head up the company's technical group in liaison with the British Army during 1943 and 1944. By 1942, Ford of Canada had suspended civilian vehicle production, and concentrated on supplying thousands of military vehicles to the Allied troops. He returned to Canada after the war with innovative plans for the company's future. Most notable was the creation of the dual lines marketing system, with the pre-war dealers providing the nucleus for the Ford-Monarch division, and the formation of a new dealer group representing the Lincoln-Mercury (later to be the Lincoln-Mercury- Meteor) division.
Wallace Campbell, then President of Ford of Canada, was experiencing health problems, and in April 1946 was forced to retire. Douglas Greig assumed the presidency, and Rhys Sale was elected vice-president. With his promotion to executive vice-president in April 1948, he had full charge of the company's operations. At barely 51 years of age the former junior clerk had climbed to the top of the corporate ladder and reached the summit on January 1,1950 with his elevation to President and CEO upon the retirement of Mr. Greig.
Rhys Sale took over the company in a post-war boom - the 1949 production had reached an all-time high of 112,130 units. Ford of Canada serviced a strong export market, and in 1949 a total of 7127 cars and 9920 trucks were shipped overseas. Besides selling a record number of Windsor-produced vehicles, dealers across Canada were also marketing English-built cars and trucks, Ford and Fordson Major tractors and farm machinery and related parts. The all-Canadian Monarch cars and Mercury trucks introduced in 1946 were enjoying strong sales, as was the brand new all-Canadian Meteor, introduced in 1949.
We talk of the "globalization" of Ford today as if it were a new concept, but Ford of Canada has always looked outward in its business dealings, ever since the first Model T was shipped to India in 1910. Rhys Sale must have logged more miles on behalf of the company than any other executive in its history, and travelled tirelessly to the far-flung reaches of the company in places like New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaya and Pakistan. These were not just corporate pleasure jaunts, but genuine missions with mutually beneficial exchanges of ideas and strategies, which gave him an unmatched knowledge of the company's workings, as well as a solid grounding in international affairs. He also crisscrossed Canada countless times, and had an intimate working knowledge of all the Ford operations from Vancouver to Halifax, and especially of the heart and soul of the huge operation in his hometown of Windsor.
The great irony and tragedy of Rhys Sale's career was the fact that it was he who was at the helm of the company when assembly and head office facilities were moved from Windsor to Oakville and Toronto in 1953. The pain and sense of betrayal felt in the city of Windsor still echo even today, when more people are actually employed in Windsor than in Oakville, and continued investment of millions of dollars by the company in Windsor facilities has put it at the leading edge of automotive technology. When every family in Windsor had someone who was either directly or indirectly working at "Fords", it must have seemed that the very heart of that community was powered by the machinery that drove the Ford assembly lines. As much as the move to Oakville was undertaken for reasons which then , as now, made sound economic sense, the sense of betrayal must have been harder to bear when it was perceived that the man responsible for the move was one of their own.
The establishment of Ford of Canada in Windsor made infinite sense in 1904: the parent company, which supplied all components at the time, lay just across the river, and that same river was a gateway to the huge U.S. and Canadian market, as well as a starting point for the thousands of "knocked-down" export vehicles crated up at the riverside docks. The rail lines carried parts and vehicles in and out of the plants in all directions, and until World War II Windsor was an ideal hub for the massive operation. But, to quote an article from Business Week, May 16, 1953 - "By the 1940's with the post-war wave of immigration to Canada, it soon became apparent that there were problems with distribution and marketing in a country that was 3000 miles wide, and in its principal populated area only 200 miles deep. In 1949 almost 60% of all Canadian made vehicles were sold within a 300 mile radius of Toronto, and about 38% were within a 200 mile circle. It was estimated that, should the assembly plant be relocated to Oakville, one fifth of its vehicle output would be sold within 25 miles of the factory.
Although his personal feelings must have been very ambivalent at the time, the opening of the Oakville Assembly Plant in May 1953 was taken in stride by the workaholic Sale, who seems to have had the energies and enthusiasm of a much younger man. At an age where most men would be looking toward retirement and a life of ease, he continued to lead the company into the world market. When asked by a reporter what Rhys Sale did in his spare time, a colleague replied "He doesn't have any - he works all the time!"Alfhough his passions for hunting and fishing were not indulged as often as he would have liked, he still found time to volunteer with the Boy Scouts of Canada, the Windsor Community Chest and Chamber of Commerce, and the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, as well as holding directorships on the boards of many prominent Canadian companies. On infrequent holidays, he loved to spend time cruising on the upper lakes with son John and daughter Peggy in the sailing boats that had always been a passion of his.
Upon his retirement as President in 1960, Rhys Sale served as Chairman of the Board until 1962, then as a Director until 1967, when he became President of McGraw Edison. He remained active up until his death on November 17, 1980 at the age of 83.