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Billy, Alfred, and General Motors

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Billy, Alfred, and General Motors

The Story of Two Unique Men, a Legendary Company, and a Remarkable Time in American History


15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

The story of General Motors is fascinating both for itself, and as a paradigm of organizational development.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


In this book you’ll find eccentrics, misfits and geniuses who made and lost fortunes, founded and lost companies, gained brief fame and were eventually forgotten by just about everyone except automotive industry historians. Although the book purports to focus on Billy Durant, Alfred Sloan and General Motors, its scope is actually much wider, since the evolution of the automobile industry exemplifies the evolution of U.S. industries in general. getAbstract recommends this lively, readable saga to history buffs and managers. It is a highly instructive take on the parallels between boom and bust in the car industry of the 1910s and in the high-tech industry of the 1990s.


Contrasting Characters

William C. (Billy) Durant, the entrepreneur who founded General Motors, died in relative poverty in New York City on March 18, 1947. He was 85. He had fought and lost two battles for control of GM, and had gone on to build and lose other fortunes. The obituary writers all but ignored his achievements. Instead, they focused on his failures.

Alfred Sloan, GM’s meticulous administrator, did not have Durant’s creative fire, although he was not entirely lacking in imagination. Sloan’s name became synonymous with GM and with twentieth century management practices. He died in 1966 at 90, leaving GM with a 52% share of the U.S. auto market and an organizational model that other America businesses strove to emulate. The obituary writers covered him with accolades.

The Year of Decision: 1920

At first, the automobile was a toy of the rich, but by 1920 it was clearly established as an important force in the U.S. economy, and a focus of organizational and technological innovation. Even then, GM was, in today’s terms, a "socially responsible" employer. It built houses for its large workforce and set up an employee stock ownership plan, similar...

About the Author

William Pelfrey is a veteran U.S. Foreign Service Officer and former director of executive communications for General Motors.

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    R. P. 1 decade ago
    I have just finished this book and it is simply fascinating. The way that all the actors fit in the history of GM and the influence they had on it eventually makes the book difficult stop reading until finding it. A Very descriptive narration that evolves you in the past times and makes you imagine how the things were done to lay out the foundations of the american auto industry. On the other hand, some sad stories of very-talented men that at the end one can ask how those things happen. But that is life. Thumbs up to the author!