Billy, Alfred, and General Motors: The Story of Two Unique Men, a Legendary Company, and a Remarkable Time in American History

Billy, Alfred, and General Motors: The Story of Two Unique Men, a Legendary Company, and a Remarkable Time in American History

Billy, Alfred, and General Motors: The Story of Two Unique Men, a Legendary Company, and a Remarkable Time in American History

Billy, Alfred, and General Motors: The Story of Two Unique Men, a Legendary Company, and a Remarkable Time in American History

Synopsis

"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."

Excerpt

WHAT THEY WROUGHT

They were opposites in all respects. William C. (Billy) Durant, the high school dropout, was the flamboyant dreamer and gambler, focused on personal relationships and risk. Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., the MIT engineer, was the stern organizer and manager, focused on data and logic (not to mention profit). Billy managed to create General Motors in bold defiance of the industrial and financial powers of his day. Alfred went on to transform it into the largest and most successful enterprise the world had ever seen. Today, for better or worse, executives and employees all over the globe, in all kinds of businesses, are dealing with the effects of precedents set in motion by what these two men wrought in the first half of the twentieth century.

Their business legacies, like their lives, are studies in contrast. Billy was done in by his own wizardry in expanding his empire through financial manipulation and speculation. Alfred mastered both the art of corporate vision and the science of nuts-and-bolts management; yet his tragic failure to understand the changing nature of the relationships between employee, company, and government left a legacy of resentment and mistrust that remains unresolved today.

The contrasting character, struggles, and triumphs of the two men show clearly, hauntingly, in their last official oil portraits. Billy Durant, GM’s founder, is seated, wearing a wrinkled black suit that looks too big for him. He is gazing slightly off to the side with a squint rather than directly at the artist. His thin, tense smile is that of a man who knows the meaning of adversity firsthand; a man who still has pride but is no longer quite sure how far to trust those looking upon him. Alfred Sloan, the successor, is standing ramrod straight, wearing a bluish-gray suit that is perfectly tailored and buttoned. He is neither smiling nor frowning but looking directly (slightly down) at the artist, unashamed to be in command and at ease with himself and the world, holding a memo in his left hand.

In the year 1904, when Billy Durant ventured into the automo-

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