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Allan D. Gilmour spent 34 years climbing to the top of the automotive industry, which is known for its larger-than-life characters.

When Gilmour joined Ford Motor Co. in 1960, the top executive was Henry Ford II, or "Henry the Deuce," who received as much attention for his divorces and flamboyant personal life as he did for his business moves.

Gilmour, who nearly became chief executive officer at Ford, wasn't nearly as colorful. But he was a financial whiz and he was known for his quick wit.

There was something, though, that Gilmour didn't talk about -- being gay. That's no longer the case, however.

After he was passed over for Ford's No. 1 job, Gilmour took an early retirement at the end of 1994. Since then, Gilmour went public with his sexual orientation, perhaps the most prominent person in corporate America to "out" himself.

Over the past 18 months, Gilmour has become a spokesman on gay issues in the workplace.

In an interview, Gilmour said his sexual orientation wasn't a factor in his not getting Ford's chief executive post.

"I wish I had gotten it. It would have been fun," Gilmour said. "But Alex Trotman was a good choice. The board concluded Alex's background was what was needed."

Gilmour, on the other hand, had a series of mostly finance-related jobs. At one time, that was the path to the top at Ford. But with tough competition from Japanese automakers, Ford's board began to value executives who had experience running an operation, not just evaluating the work of others.

Gilmour opted to leave the company after Trotman's selection, but it wasn't until late 1996 that he publicly disclosed his sexual orientation. He first did so in an interview with a monthly newspaper for gay, lesbians and bisexuals in Michigan. Later, he talked to national business publications.

Why go public? "I became more interested in that aspect of my life," he said.

He said conditions in the workplace have improved for gays.

But he said improvements remain to be made. For example, he said, companies need to include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination policies. And he said firms should provide "domestic partner benefits," so that benefits can be extended to same-sex partners the same way benefits are provided to heterosexual spouses and children.

The retired executive said more open discussion of the topic, like the speeches he makes, can help.

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