2004: Martin Leach
Former VP of product development, Ford
The man who gave us the brilliant Mazda RX-8 and Mazda 6
In our words: “It might seem strange that we have given our Man of the Year award to a car company executive who is currently without a job, but Leach is exactly the kind of person car companies need, and his departure is symptomatic of the current problems at the blue oval. He’s a certified car nut, one of the very few visionaries of the trade, an excellent engineer and driver, a pragmatic team player, and a genuinely nice guy.”
In his words: “I threw in the towel because Ford of Europe, which I ran for almost a year, was drawn into the political ping-pong initiated by Ford worldwide. I am hugely sad about the way things went, having dedicated all my working life to this company–but these days everybody seems to be out to get everybody else at the top of the house.”
What happened next: Leach actually sued Ford, winning $2.1 million in 2005 and allowing him to subvert his contract’s non-compete clause. He briefly served as CEO of Maserati, then a string of other European companies. The RX-8, which finished its model run this year, is still hailed as an excellent (albeit flawed) sportscar. The 6 hopes to return to its Leach-designed roots with a new 2014 model.