General Motors chairman Alfred P. Sloan was the ultimate organization man: he rose to the top of the auto industry after pioneers like Henry Ford built it, and then he transformed it with innovative management practices that today are studied and copied by business executives everywhere. In Sloan Rules
, University of New Mexico historian David Farber describes how Sloan led his company to "economic greatness" between the 1920s and '40s, particularly by developing "a loose economic model in which highly rationalized corporate productivity combined with relentless marketing creates a mass consumer society that, in turn, produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people." Surprisingly little is known about Sloan's personal life--he was an intensely private man--but in this biography Farber provides a good overview of what made Sloan such an outstanding businessman. He also recounts Sloan's contentious relationship with Franklin Delano Roosevelt: "To Sloan, the New Deal was a raw deal." (At one point, the chairman even described the New Dealers as "ancient Asiatic despots.") Farber clearly wishes his subject had concerned himself more with social justice, but he also points out that Sloan's energy and creativity made it possible for a subsequent GM chairman to say, with some if not complete credibility, that what's good for GM is good for America. --John J. Miller
From Publishers Weekly
Early in the auto industry's history, Alfred P. Sloan trounced the monolith that was Henry Ford, turning the ambitious but messily sprawling empire of General Motors into a smoothly humming money-making machine. His 1964 book on management, My Years with General Motors, is a business classic, and his methods placed GM at the top of the automobile world, yet he remains unknown. Farber, a University of New Mexico history professor, admits that studying this invisible man Sloan left behind no private papers or correspondence of any kind, and GM destroyed all of his corporate papers was a quixotic task, but one worth attempting, because beneath Sloan's icy, patrician demeanor beat the heart of a pure businessman who was so committed to the pursuit of his profession that he took almost no pleasure in it. Although he proved a master at realigning GM's divisions in the 1920s after the chaotic rule of the company's previous leader, William Durant, it wasn't the cars Sloan really loved, it was the numbers: "The manufacture of correct assessments, not physical products, is what most gratified Alfred Sloan." Farber's efforts to bring Sloan to life ultimately fail, however, and there are times when Farber's tale seems more about the trials and tribulations of General Motors than any one man, who in some passages seems to pop up only as an afterthought. This outcome would no doubt have made Sloan happy, leaving him forever safe and hidden, a true ghost in the machine. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.