Entrepreneur's Hall of Fame: Henry Ford
Henry Ford is widely regarded as one of the greatest innovators and industrialists of all time. He "ignited" the industrial revolution with his ingenious assembly line, made "inroads" in aviation, developed school systems, published a controversial newspaper, and even made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 1918. Ford was regarded as a pacifist yet produced over 1,000,000 vehicles, planes, and other machinery aiding the allied victory during WWII.
Many people of the day had mixed feelings about his sometimes "ignorant" remarks (which likely contributed to his unsuccessful senate bid), union difficulties (Ford paid top salaries, but the company was also very late to unionize) and a profound benevolent yet "do it my way" demeanor. He developed a variety of work and family initiatives that the company has upheld through today. Nevertheless, he is the pre-eminent father of the automobile and provided the "spark" for production line efficiencies allowing low-cost products in use hundreds of times each day all over the world.
"I will build a motor car for the multitude...so low in price that the man of moderate means may own one and enjoy with his family the blessings of happy hours spent in God's great open spaces."
"Keep a man cheerful and he'll work harder"
In 1913, Ford wrote the following as the directors had been reaping the rewards of profits - "The wages we pay are too small in comparison with our profits. I think we should raise our minimum pay rate".
About 8 years later Ford introduced 5-day labor. "Every man needs more than one day for rest and recreation."
Whether for charity or publicity Ford was the first manufacturer to hire the handicapped. "It is wrong to put an able-bodied man in a job that can be filled by a cripple...It is a waste to put the blind at weaving baskets".
Well... Ford wasn't always as eloquent or "politically correct" as some might have liked.
Entrepreneurship at an Early Age
Henry Ford was born on July 30, 1863 in Greenfield, Michigan. The son of an Irish immigrant farmer William Ford, Henry was educated in a one room school house. On his 11th birthday, Henry was given a watch that fascinated him to the extent that 1 year later he constructed his own time piece and endeavored to sell them to everyone for $1 apiece. The "coup de gras" was a few years later when he saw a "horseless buggy" plowing a field. These events along Ford's entrepreneurial journey were the inspiration for mass-production and likely planted the seeds for the industrial revolution.
Life and Times
In 1896, Ford developed the first horseless carriage in his garage aptly dubbed the "Quadricycle" as it had 4 bicycle tires. He would soon organize the Detroit Automobile Company with investors and $10,000 which he would leave due to disagreements with investors. He would then raise capital to found the Henry Ford Company. This company was also short lived due to diverging opinions on the target market for automobiles. Ford saw all along that the automobile (similar to his youthful pocket watch) could be made cost-effective providing transportation to the masses.
Ford would go on to build cars assigned with a letter code such as the Model A, Model B and so on up to Model T. The Model T was a clunky, unattractive, efficient and dependable car that sold over a half million cars over a 5 year period. This success led to the rapid growth of the Ford Motor Company which at that point employed 4,000 people. Today the company employs several hundred thousand people around the globe.
Key thoughts for entrepreneurs
Ford was a very driven man. Yet, he believed highly in the quality of life for employees. He was a pioneer offering profit-sharing to employees salaries at $5 and then $6 per day which were well above usual wages. There are stories of engineers telling Ford that adding additional cylinders simply weren't possible. Ford would tell them that it was possible and don't stop trying. He knew it was possible and given time the engineers would find the answer.
Ford fought many battles. In the early years, he had a near fatal legal bout with George Selden. Selden and his group held a patent for "road locomotives". Ford fought in court and won the right to build and sell automobiles without royalty payments. He also fought with investors dissolving 2 companies and in the 1930's and 1940's battled unions. It took 8 years for Ford to sign a union contract. He had several cars that were failures, most notably the early "luxury" automobiles for which he had little interest (a likely component of failure) as well as later automobiles such as the "Edsel" (named after his son and one-time Ford President).
Ford has many admirers and detractors. At age 11, he knew that mass-production was the answer to providing product for the benefit of all people. He learned from his mistakes and great mentors such as Thomas Edison. Ford Motor Corporation at an early stage had a bank balance of $223.65. Ford successfully found investors for each business as they bought in to his passion, skill, and instinct. Ford's estate was valued at over $200 million and became one of the largest public trusts in the U.S.