Bill Ford

Ford's forgotten man

May 25, 2011: 11:24 AM ET

By Doron Levin, contributor

Everyone knows how Ford hocked the Blue Oval to survive the downturn. No one remembers the CFO who did it was a holdover from the prior regime.

Former Ford CFO Don Leclair

Former Ford CFO Don Leclair

FORTUNE -- Amid the adulation that has engulfed CEO Alan Mulally for leading the remarkable turnaround at Ford Motor Co., the feat of one key Ford (F) finance executive recedes into history's footnotes. The underappreciated episode was critical to Ford's rebound and allowed the Ford family to keep control it otherwise would have lost.

Don Leclair, then Ford's chief financial officer, led a team that raised almost $24 billion in cash in 2006 by mortgaging the automaker's key assets, a strategy that would eventually protect Ford from bankruptcy while its two major U.S. competitors were forced into government-ordered reorganization.

After 32 years at Ford, his last five as chief financial officer, Leclair retired in November 2008 at the age of 56. He now lives in Plymouth, Michigan. He told me in a short phone conversation that he declined to discuss Ford and doesn't follow the industry anymore.

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