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Billy, Alfred, and General Motors

Book Description

One industry has had more impact on life in America than any other before or since. Here is the story of two men and one company at the start of it all. You couldn’t find two more different men. Billy Durant was the consummate salesman, a brilliant wheeler-dealer with grand plans, unflappable energy, and a fondness for the high life. Alfred Sloan was the intellectual, an expert in business strategy and management, master of all things organizational. Together, this odd couple built perhaps the most successful enterprise in U.S. history, General Motors, and with it an industry that has come to define modern life throughout the world. Their story is full of timeless lessons, cautionary tales, and inspiration for business leaders and history buffs alike. Billy, Alfred, and General Motors is the tale not just of the two extraordinary men of its title but also of the formative decades of twentieth-century America, through two world wars and sea changes in business, industry, politics, and culture. The book includes vivid, warts-and-all portraits of the legends of the golden age of the automobile, from “Crazy” Henry Ford, Ransom Olds, and Charles Nash to the brilliant but uncredited David Dunbar Buick and Cadillac founder Henry Leland. The impact of Durant and Sloan on their contemporaries and their industry is matched only by the powerful legacy of their improbable and incredible partnership. Characters, events, and context -- all are brought skillfully and passionately to life in this meticulously researched and supremely readable book.

Table of Contents

  1. Cover
  2. Title
  3. Copyright
  4. Contents
  5. Acknowledgments
  6. A Note on Sources and Permissions
  7. Introduction: What They Wrought
  8. 1 1920: The Fateful Year
    1. America and the General on a Roll
    2. Losing a Man Named Chrysler
    3. The Eve of Showdown
  9. 2 A Precocious Dropout Forges His First Empire
    1. A Hands-On Education
    2. Sins of the Fathers
    3. Just a Short Ride Across Town
    4. Selling Billy Durant, Then Selling the Product
    5. A Bitter Lesson in Production Control
    6. From Start-Up to Industry Leader
  10. 3 A Quiet Student Becomes a First-Class Supplier
    1. Staying on Message
    2. A Most Serious Young Man
    3. Early Risk and Turnaround
    4. Seeing a New Market
  11. 4 A New Machine Creates a New Order
    1. An Ancient Idea Slowly Takes Hold
    2. Enter Ransom Olds
    3. Leland, Master of Precision
    4. Henry Ford and His Demons
    5. Leland Is in, Cadillac Is Born
    6. Alfred Meets Henry . . . and Henry Rises Again
  12. 5 Restless in Flint, Antsy in New York
    1. The Good Life in Flint
    2. Spared the Strife . . . for the Time Being
    3. A Different Routine for Billy’s Executive Team
    4. A Hardy Man Takes the Plunge Without Billy
    5. Billy Takes a Sabbatical
    6. David Buick Takes His Shot
    7. Enter the Briscoe Boys and Whiting of Flint
  13. 6 The Dropout’s Next Big Thing
    1. Making It a Go
    2. Another Industry Precedent, and an Early Jab from Alfred
    3. Billy Finds a New Flame
    4. Buick Triumphant
    5. No Legacy for David
    6. A Shakeout on the Horizon
  14. 7 Birth of a General
    1. A Hyatt Customer Prepares to Shift into High Gear
    2. Henry Ford’s Different Product Strategy
    3. Billy Takes Another Call
    4. Billy Brings the Big Four Together . . .
    5. Henry Ford Kills Morgan’s Big Deal
    6. Billy Cuts His Own Deal
    7. No Headlines for Billy’s Newborn
  15. 8 Shooting for the Stars
    1. Putting the House of Olds in Order by Cutting the Baby in Quarters
    2. Cadillac Makes Itself the World Standard . . . Despite Slumping Sales
    3. Wooing the Lelands
    4. One More Run at Henry Ford
    5. The Great Race . . . and More Great Opportunities
    6. A Whirling Dervish Unconstrained
  16. 9 Down but Hardly Out
    1. Billy Says Goodbye . . . for Now
    2. A Case of Conspiracy or Prudence?
    3. Henry Pulls Away . . . and Brings America with Him
    4. Heady but Precarious Days for Sloan the Supplier
    5. The Bankers Turn to James Storrow, Brahmin
    6. Billy Champions a Former Protégé
    7. Every Executive Recruiter’s Dream Candidate: Walter Chrysler
    8. The Bankers’ Bottom Line
    9. Enter Kettering with His Self-Starter
    10. The Bankers’ Philosophy vs. Henry Ford’s
  17. 10 Beating the Odds with Chevrolet
    1. Taking on the Model T . . . Slowly
    2. A Different Way to Build Brand Awareness and Community Relations
    3. Finally, the Long-Awaited Hit
    4. Henry Again Changes the Game
    5. The Guardian from Delaware and His Right Hand
  18. 11 A Boardroom Coup Like None Before or Since
    1. The Mother of All Proxy Battles
    2. Another Clash of Philosophies: Pierre vs. Billy on Corporate Governance
    3. Cementing the Base: Step One, Locking in Chrysler
    4. Step Two, Luring Alfred into the Fold
    5. Alfred Moves Up with Billy
  19. 12 The Founder’s Grip Slips Again
    1. Henry Ford’s Plunge into Pacifism, Politics, and Prejudice
    2. Billy Durant vs. the Lelands
    3. Good Times on the New Jersey Shore, but Not on Wall Street
    4. The Wizard Gambles Again . . . and Dilutes His Power
  20. 13 A Last Good-Bye to the Baby
    1. Prelude to the Crisis
    2. General Motors’ Response vs. Ford Motor’s
    3. The Founder Has His Own Doubts as His Leadership Team Remains Mute
    4. Done in by the Street . . . Again
    5. Billy Does Right by His Baby
    6. The End of an Era
  21. 14 Alfred Pulls the Ranks Together
    1. Pierre Comes Out from Behind the Curtain
    2. Kettering’s Copper-Cooled Engine
    3. From Standoff to Near Meltdown
    4. Defying the Consultants to Save Chevrolet
    5. Decentralized Operations with Coordinated Control
    6. Henry Ford Misses a Sea Change in the Market
    7. A Car for Every Purse and Purpose
  22. 15 From Transformation to Domination
    1. A New Paradigm for Product Design
    2. The Annual Model Change
    3. Beyond the United States
    4. Nonautomotive Forays and Legacies
    5. Financial (and Other) Controls
    6. Attracting, Developing, and Holding the Best Talent at All Levels
    7. Unrest in the Ranks
    8. Politicians and Executives Don’t Mix
    9. The Finest Hour: General Motors Goes to War for America
    10. The Sloan Philosophy and Legacy of Winning
  23. Epilogue: What’s Good for General Motors . . .
  24. Chronology of Key Events
  25. Notes
  26. Selected Bibliography
  27. Index
  28. About the Author