Robert McNamara : biography
McNamara served as head of the World Bank from April 1968 to June 1981, when he turned 65. In his 13 years at the Bank, he introduced key changes, most notably, shifting the Bank’s focus toward targeted poverty reduction. He negotiated, with the conflicting countries represented on the Board, a growth in funds to channel credits for development, in the form of health, food, and education projects. He also instituted new methods of evaluating the effectiveness of funded projects. One notable project started during McNamara’s tenure was the effort to prevent river blindness.
The World Bank currently has a scholarship program under his name.
As World Bank President, McNamara declared at the 1968 Annual Meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group that countries permitting birth control practices would get preferential access to resources.
President of Ford Motor Company
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. Whiz Kids origins: Because of their youth, combined with asking lots of questions, Ford employees initially and disparagingly, referred to them as the "Quiz Kids". In a remarkable "turning of the tables", these Quiz Kids rebranded themselves as the "Whiz Kids" and backed-up their new moniker with performance driven results. 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 wildly popular 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 — now an icon among 1960s automobiles.
On November 9, 1960, McNamara became the first president of Ford from outside the Ford family. He received credit for Ford’s postwar success.
Post-World Bank activities and assessments
In 1982 McNamara joined several other former national security officials in urging that the United States pledge not to use nuclear weapons first in Europe in the event of hostilities; subsequently he proposed the elimination of nuclear weapons as an element of NATO’s defense posture.
In 1993, Washington journalist Deborah Shapley published a 615-page biography of Robert McNamara entitled Promise and Power: the Life and Times of Robert McNamara. The last pages of her book made clear that while Ms. Shapley deeply admired certain aspects of McNamara the man, and the public servant, she had seen first-hand his need to manipulate the truth, as well as to tell it. Shapley concluded her book with these words: "For better and worse McNamara shaped much in today’s world – and imprisoned himself. A little-known nineteenth century writer, F.W. Boreham, offers a summation: `We make our decisions. And then our decisions turn around and make us.’"
McNamara’s memoir, In Retrospect, published in 1995, presented an account and analysis of the Vietnam War from his point of view. According to his lengthy New York Times obituary, "[h]e concluded well before leaving the Pentagon that the war was futile, but he did not share that insight with the public until late in life. In 1995, he took a stand against his own conduct of the war, confessing in a memoir that it was ‘wrong, terribly wrong.’" In return, he faced a "firestorm of scorn" at that time.