Ford Authority

Former Ford CEO Donald Petersen Dies At 97

For many years, Ford Motor Company was led by a number of folks that stemmed from the Blue Oval family tree, and in fact, that was the case between 1956 all the way until 1980. A few years later, Donald Petersen joined the short list of folks to be named Ford CEO that weren’t part of that group, making him just the second to do so, in fact. Though he only remained in that position from 1985 to 1990, Petersen had a tremendous impact on The Blue Oval – playing a big role in the development of icons like the Ford Taurus and Ford Explorer – though sadly, the former executive has passed away at the age of 97, according to Automotive News.

Donald Petersen took over the reins at FoMoCo during a critical time, and proceeded to right the proverbial ship and help the company rake in record profits while improving its share of the U.S. light vehicle market by a whopping one-third. He was so successful, in fact, that Petersen was named the most effective CEO in the U.S. by Fortune magazine in 1988.

Petersen’s time at the top was relatively short-lived after the CEO decided to retire in 1990, around two years before the typical retirement age of 65. However, Ford brass reportedly wanted to make a change regardless, which likely played a role in that decision. Looking back, there’s no denying the tremendous impact Donald Petersen had on Ford at the time – and in the ensuing years – as he oversaw the transition of the Taurus to a more modern rounded design that set a trend for the entire industry, as well as the launch of the Explorer, which changed the automotive landscape forever by making SUVs more mainstream.

“He insisted on teamwork and excellence in the name of customers and guided Ford through a period of revitalization and intense competition in the global auto industry,” Ford said of Donald Petersen in a statement. “Donald pushed his teams to design and deliver vehicles they’d be proud to park in their own driveways, a standard to which we still hold ourselves.”

We’ll have more on past, present, and future Ford executives soon, so be sure and subscribe to Ford Authority for 24/7 Ford news coverage.

Brett's lost track of all the Fords he's owned over the years and how much he's spent modifying them, but his current money pits include an S550 Mustang and 13th gen F-150.

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  1. Dwayne D

    Donald Peterson was an excellent CEO. Farley can’t hold a candle to him. RIP

    1. keith

      I echo your sentiments completely.
      RIP Donald

    2. Jeff

      Couldn’t agree more. Peterson brought about the changes needed to pivot the company in a time when it was deeply needed. Leadership today is sorely lacking vision.

    3. Sparsparkster

      It’s fantastic how most of these comments thought Mulroney was an excellent CEO and yet the last paragraph stated he left early because they wanted a different direction? Fellas, if this is true what Ford is today is what they want.

  2. Mike TowpathTraveler

    Judging by the products coming from Ford during Mr Petersen’s reign, he was a man who loved cars. And because of that, Ford was the envy of the automotive world. Case in point, the original Taurus was a cannonshot to the rest of the industry. Nothing else was like it. Ford Special Vehicle Operations gave us the Mustang SVO. The Aero Bird, Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, which dominated Nascar. Mustang GT was gaining it’s stride over the Camaro. Over on the truck side, the Bronco II gave way to the Explorer, which absolutely ruled the SUV market for years. RIP to a man who made Ford a car most anyone wanted to have in their driveway.

    1. Hat

      Well said. Some of my most beloved Fords are from this era, including a Taurus I still have.

  3. Tigger

    Back when Ford actually had leadership….

  4. Shawnski

    A great leader. Proved that Ford could not only survive without Lee Iacocca, but thrive. Instrumental in bringing back Ford U.S. support for Motorsport. Taurus, T-Bird, Mustang all great cars in the 80’s.

  5. carl

    During the SVT years, there was also the Contour SVT. My wife had one and loved it, even if it was a 4 dr.


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