Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Great Figures in the auto industry - part 1

A brief note tonight on a couple of thoughts that I had about a few great figures in the auto industry. In starting Local Motors, each of us often has people ask who our mentors are in the business of cars.

In the latest of these, one of our close acquaintances who runs Motorfoot.com asked if I could recommend a good book about Ford (that would be the one and only Henry Ford). This is of course, a challenging question because there has been so much written about this seminal figure in the global auto industry. I almost don't know where to start, but I thought that I should take a try at it and let everyone hear my thoughts. ONE CAVEAT: I AM NOT AN EXPERT ON FORD. Truth be told, he is not even a hero of mine, but his legacy is unmistakable, and so here's a shot at some things to read.

The obvious answer would be to recommend, My Life and Work, by Ford himself (with Samuel Crowther). Nothing ever quite compares to listening to a person themselves so that one can make up his own mind; however, this book is missing on some of the more insightful reviews of Ford's life post mortem. For that I might recommend, Nevins and Hill who wrote several books the first of which was Ford: The Times, The Man, The Company. They are probably considered the definitive biographers, but the read is a little dry.... OK a lot dry. For some spice, I might turn to the history of Ford and his relationship to the labor movement (read hatred of organized labor). For this Harry Bennett, his longtime aide, would likely figure strongly. For example, in chapter 4 of The Story of the CIO, Benjamin Stolberg chronicles some juicy facts about the culture of fear developed in the famous Ford Service organization. Ford was notoriously anti-education and pro-hiring from the factory floor up. This ethos lead to a culture of gritty seat of the pants managers who vaulted the Company to stardom but were quickly outwitted by Alfred Sloan's General Motors.

(Henry Ford, www.wikimedia.org)

These are just a few thoughts. As a separate note but equally fascinating as a description of the men who shaped the Modern auto industry, I cannot recommend highly enough The Six Men Who Built the Modern Auto Industry, by Richard Johnson. This book deals with the grandson of Henry Ford, Henry Ford II and 5 of his modern contemporaries who are responsible for much of the industry today. It includes a deep and rich description of the life and times of one of my true heros in the auto industry, Eberhard von Kuenheim, who from 1965 through the early 1990s put BMW on a path to remain on the automotive map for decades.

(Eberhard von Kuenheim, www.autonews.com))

The bottom line is that where ever you start in the history of great car figures, you are bound to learn a great deal about passion, risk, responsibility, reward, and leadership.


Anonymous said...

Not directly about Henry Ford but the book "The Reckoning" by the late David Halberstam, tells a great deal about the rise of Ford Motor Company and Nissan.

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