strategy+business Winter 2013 : Page 88
B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 13 / L E A D E R S H I P 88 produced at the world’s largest factory site in a fully in-tegrated facility that was the industrial wonder of the world, envied even by Stalin and Hitler. Curcio, also author of Chrysler: The Life and Times of an Automotive Genius (Oxford University Press, 2000), draws particular attention to Ford’s numerous contradictions and paradoxes. Ford was visionary, in-novative, inspiring, expansive, bold, rational, generous, wise, honest, and a paciﬁst. He was at the same time shortsighted, backward, rigid, querulous, malignant, irrational, paranoid, contentious, dissembling, and bel-ligerent. Ford and his immediate family owned 100 percent of their company, a degree of corporate control never enjoyed by the likes of Rockefeller and Carnegie, yet he cultivated an image of himself as Everyman. “When a reporter asked him how it felt to be the world’s ﬁrst billion-aire,” Curcio writes, “he squirmed in his seat and replied, ‘Oh, shit!’” Ford was the greatest friend African-Americans had in big business (in 1926, 10,000 blacks were employed in his plants, of-ten supervising whites), and at the same time a virulent anti-Semite. He hired and promoted women, immigrants, and disabled people decades before other large com-panies did so; most famously, he introduced the $5 per day wage when the average industrial work-er earned half that amount. Mean-while, his infamous Sociology Department snooped into his workers’ private lives, dismissing those who drank, gambled, or cheated on their spouses, and he was notorious for ﬁring workers as they gained senior-ity, replacing them with younger, lower-paid employees. Ford ran for the U.S. Senate as a progressive Demo-crat (and nearly won), then turned into an arch-reac-tionary. He presented himself to the world as a model of domesticity, yet he had a decades-long relationship with a mistress who bore his love child. He said he was interested in cars, not money, yet he conspired to avoid some $321 million in inheritance taxes. In short, he was far from Raskob’s opposite. In this brief, lively introduction to Ford’s life, Cur-cio makes the case that Henry Ford changed the face of the U.S., giving the nation mobility, materialism, and modernism. Undeniably, Ford introduced a product in which people could be conceived, be born, live, and die, as many since have done. Although the auto industry may seem old hat to today’s young managers, the lead-ership lessons one can take from this book are timeless. Indeed, the more one learns about Ford, the more one sees parallels to the career of Steve Jobs, an equally com-plex leader who also changed the way Americans lived. Curcio contrasts the brilliant, irascible, chaos-creating Henry to his thoughtful, kind, and emotion-ally steady son, Edsel. Whereas his father was the clas-sic innovator and entrepreneur, Edsel Bryant Ford was a highly capable manager responsible for many of the best business decisions made by the Ford Company, where, in 1919, at the young age of 25, he succeeded Henry as president. It seems that Edsel had the leadership chops to match those of his archrival Sloan across town at GM, at least when his mercu-rial father didn’t step in and sec-ond-guess him. Sadly, Edsel died in 1943 at the age of 49, and his octogenarian father returned to the company’s executive suite. It marked the beginning of a de-cades-long decline in the compa-ny’s fortunes during which several ﬁnance-and accounting-oriented executives, such as Robert McNa-mara and Red Poling, would wres-tle with product-and manufac-turing-oriented executives, such as Donald Petersen and Lee Iacocca, for control of the corporation. This proved beneﬁcial mainly to GM and Japanese competitors, and only recently did that destructive internal competition cease under the stew-ardship of Henry’s great-grandson, Chairman William Clay Ford Jr., and the impressive leadership of industry outsider CEO Alan Mulally. The Loose Cannon strategy+business strategy+business issue issue 73 73 best books 2013 leadership Indeed, a major theme running through the hundred-year saga known as “Detroit” has been the nasty leader-ship battle between car guys, like Ford, and bean coun-ters, like Raskob, to borrow labels from retired auto executive Bob Lutz. His fourth book, Icons and Idiots: Straight Talk on Leadership, is an olio of 11 mini-bios of leaders, most of whom were executives the author worked for during his six decades in the auto industry.