cover image The Whiz Kids

The Whiz Kids

John Byrne. Doubleday Business, $27.5 (581pp) ISBN 978-0-385-24804-4

Christened the Whiz Kids by the press, 10 young Army Air Force statistical experts in 1945 were hired as a unit by Henry Ford II to impose order on the company he had just taken over from his senile grandfather. Byrne, a Business Week writer and author of The Headhunters , admits that the Kids' formula for increasing profits through monitoring the numbers saved costs, but only, he claims, at the expense of quality and innovation--thinking that ultimately led to the loss of America's automotive hegemony. The group's charismatic leader, Tex Thornton, later created--and lost--super-conglomerate Litton Industries; Jack Reith masterminded the wildly over-designed 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser, which flopped, and the doomed Edsel before committing suicide; Robert McNamara became Ford's president and then JFK and LBJ's Secretary of Defense. Others of the group ascended to top Ford jobs or drifted into disgruntled retirement. The book is that publishing rarity, a page-turner about business and finance people, but a more discriminating approach might have given the Whiz Kids' story greater cohesion. (Oct.)