SLOAN RULES: Alfred P. Sloan and the Triumph of General Motors
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. (Nov.)
Forecast: Displaying this alongside the 1996 Doubleday paperback edition of My Years with General Motors could help sales.