Billy, Alfred, and General Motors
IN THIS SUMMARY
In the 1950s, GM was a juggernaut, dominating every market it entered and influencing American manufacturing, marketing, and even society like no other company, before nor since. Now, as the company approaches its hundredth birthday, increasingly it is being characterized as a "sinking ship," either directly or by implication. GM has surrendered a significant amount of market share to foreign manufacturers (its 2005 profits came in at minus $10,600 million) and it intends to close 12 plants by 2008. Given this turbulence in the auto industry (GM is still the largest car maker in the world; thus, the vicissitudes of its fortunes still make it a juggernaut of socio-economic influence), Billy, Alfred, and General Motors is a particularly timely and valuable history. As Pelfrey notes, for better or worse, today's executives and employees worldwide, in all kinds of businesses, are dealing with precedents set in motion by Billy Durant and Alfred Sloan in the first half of the 20th century. Billy Durant, the high-school dropout who founded General Motors, was the consummate salesman-brilliant, shrewd, and unflaggingly energetic. Hailed as the most brilliant CEO of the 20th century, Alfred Sloan, GM's third president, was an educated intellectual and an expert in business, strategy, management, and all things organizational. This odd couple built what is perhaps the most successful enterprise in U.S. history-one whose ascent created an industry that has come to symbolize the modern world. Billy, Alfred, and General Motors, which is neither an exposé nor a company-sanctioned history, provides fascinating new insights into Durant and Sloan's conflicting, yet groundbreaking, definitions of what a corporation should be-definitions that have had an unprecedented socio-economic impact on the past century in the way companies deal with employees, investors, and government. It also bears witness to the birth of the U.S. auto industry and, in doing so, brings a uniquely American historical period to life.