Believing in Product and People

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Allan Gilmour, former Vice-Chairman and CFO of Ford Motor Company, is hailed as one of the few openly gay executives in the top ranks of corporate America.  His 38-year career at Ford culminated in two vice chairmanships punctuated by a brief and active retirement.  In 2010, Mr. Gilmour became the interim President of Wayne State University; after five months, he was elected to serve as permanent President by the university’s Board of Governors.  Mr. Gilmour discusses with dot429 the growing importance of LGBT inclusion in the corporate economy.  
 
In 1996, Mr. Gilmour made what he dubbed a “big, unintentional media splash” when he came out shortly after his first retirement from Ford.  He feels convinced that he would not have achieved the same level of professional success if he had publicized his sexual orientation earlier.  “I waited [to come out]because I would have been a controversial figure,” he explained.  “I thought at the time that Ford didn’t want a controversial top executive.  A company like Ford wants the emphasis on products, not on the individuals of the corporation.” 

Despite the varied reactions towards his sexual orientation in the media, Mr. Gilmour suffered no professional consequences.  In fact, he was invited by Ford Chairman and CEO Bill Ford to rejoin the firm as Vice Chairman in 2002—an act Mr. Gilmour attributed to both goodwill and economic incentive.  “Companies want all the customers and talented employees they can find,” he said.  “If you want people interested in your work and products, you want every kind of talented people.  I haven’t seen an organization yet that has too much talent.”  He added that Ford, General Motors, and DaimlerChrysler, in accordance with this principle, introduced domestic partner benefits for employees on the same day in 2000.

After his second retirement from Ford in 2005, Gilmour joined a number of corporate and non-profit boards.  A job in education did not cross his mind, however, until members of Wayne State University’s Board of Governors asked him to serve as temporary President of the university.  Mr. Gilmour accepted the position in 2010, and within five months, the Board unanimously elected him to a permanent presidency.  “We try to fulfill people’s hopes,” he said, in describing his new position.  “So many people come in without a full understanding of what’s possible at a big university.”

For students interested in creating LGBT programs within their universities, Mr. Gilmour recommends “going right to the top administration or the top internal person who is in charge of recognizing and organizing student groups, and talking with that person ASAP.”  To set an example, he has scheduled meetings with LGBT groups at Wayne State University next month to discuss their goals and interests.  

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