Ford’s Henry Ford

Lesson in leadership

Henry Ford

Lesson in leadership

Arguably the business pioneer of the twentieth century. The Ford Motor Company produced the Model T in 1908 – the realisation of a personal quest. By 1918 half of all US drivers had one.

The revolutionary production line, using precision manufacturing, standardised parts, and a division of labour, set Henry Ford apart from other great innovators. He controlled the entire process – steel mill, glass factory and assembly line – making the Rouge Plant in Michigan a fortress of industry. Growth was explosive via franchise dealerships, making many rich – and loyal – yet accountants were anathema to Ford. In his time, the business was never audited – something to make entrepreneurs green with envy. He didn’t get it all right, though. He refused to introduce new features as sales of the Model T declined and opposed unions and customer finance plans. With the rise of General Motors he relented, with the launch of the Model A in 1926. The shift prompted annual changes, a standard feature of the industry today.

Huge question marks remain against his political views: in 1938 he was awarded, and accepted, the highest medal bestowed on a foreigner by the Nazis, the Grand Cross of the German Eagle. A business legend, certainly, but one sadly tainted by his views.

What he taught us:
  • Create a splash: Ford broke the land speed record in 1903, hitting 91.3mph
  • ‘Overpay’ for talent: at $5 a day Ford more than doubled wages, as well as reducing working hours, thus attracting the best mechanics
  • Articulate the vision: Ford was a master of the soundbite, keeping him in the public eye
  • Keep innovating: the moving conveyor belt was just one idea copied by all the rest.


Factfile: Born: Detroit (US), July 1863 Died: Dearborn (US), April 1947 Business career: Founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903 with $28,000 in capital. By 1932 it made a third of the world’s cars. His production line played a significant part in both World Wars – for both sides. Achievements: Creation of mass production. Fortune named him the Century’s Greatest Businessman. Tell me something I didn’t know: He demanded that the final breath of his mentor, lightbulb inventor, Thomas Edison be captured in a test tube. It resides at the Henry Ford Museum.


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