Henry Ford – Dr. Jeckyll or Mr. Hyde

henry-ford-18 So I recently finished listening to the audio version of Henry Ford’s Autobiography “My Life and Work” originally published in 1922. This is the 3rd book I have read on Ford (First one was Ford’s 1926 “Today & Tomorrow”, Second was Richard Snow’s “I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford and the Most Important Car Ever Made”). I have to admit, this book has me more puzzled than ever…was Henry Ford a mad genius whose influence can still be seen today? Was he an ignorant antisemite who got lucky when he prophesied the future? Or was he simply a quirky entrepreneur? The more I delve into Ford (both the man and the company) I am convinced that he is a little of all of those.

model-tIn one sense he did revolutionize the way an automobile was manufactured and he made some hefty predictions that are just now in 2016 are coming true.

1. No longer were cars assembled one car at a time by craftsmen. He took concepts that he had seen in meat processing plant, moving the product to the workers, and created an auto plant that did that. He didn’t create the assembly line, but he definitely exploited it;
2. He discussed a separation of various activities within the process that operators could complete tasks with minimum effort and maximum efficiency;
3. He looked at time and motions to determine what activities were wasteful and which ones were adding to the value of the automobile;
4. He looked at keeping operator travel to a minimum by having materials at point of use;
5. He discussed the evils of having excess inventories and the problems associated with that;
6. He preached the virtues of continuously improving and letting that continuous improvement directly benefit the customer;
7. During war-time he was able to leverage the lessons he learned on how to make a car and transfer that to ship-making;
8. He was respectful to his workforce offering a high minimum wage (initially $5 per day) also demonstrating you can pay a good wage and still be profitable;
9. He talked about respecting his people and enforcing they only work 8 hours per day. Extra time that was accumulated they could use for paid time off – almost unheard of in early 1900’s America;
10. He discussed how scientific methods could be used in healthcare and education to improve those operations;
11. He envisioned a world less dependent on coal and more dependent on clean sustainable methods (at the time water & corn alcohol were primary).

On the other side of the coin … talk was cheap:

1. He was definitely sexist (keep in mind that was an acceptable stereotype at the time – women had only been given the right to vote 2 years prior to My Life & Work’s publishing);
2. He never apologized for being anti-semitic. In his autobiography he doesn’t hide from his “Dearborn Independent” articles on the International Jew; but rather, he mentions how short sighted people will eventually see the truth not about the people (Jews) but their methods of business. Remember, Dearborn Independent didn’t feature just one article, but a regular piece for almost 2 years;
3. He pushed his “morality” views on people. In order for them to get the high wage he subjected them and their families to a series of sociological and moral tests ensuring they met his standards and virtues;
4. Even though he pontificated against high inventories, he always demanded dealers carry a huge amount of inventory, even if they didn’t have demand, so he didn’t have to carry the inventory;
5. In less than 10 years from the publication of “My Life & Work”:harry
* Harry Bennett (Ford’s closest adviser) moved into power at Ford Company. Harry was known as a brutal “enforcer” using not only verbal threats, but physical threats to maintain “order”;
* Bennett and his henchmen, known to pack weapons, were involved in the famous 1932 Ford Massacre where 5 people had died and many were wounded;
* Ford’s boasting about paying “good people good wages” was dropped to somewhere around 1930 when wages went from somewhere around $6 per day to less than $2.50 per day;
* 8 hour days and time off – were things of the past.

I appreciate the advances Henry Ford brought in manufacturing. Much of what he did is the basis for Toyota’s famous TPS and is documented on Toyota’s website http://toyotaky.com/history.asp that “When the Toyota Group set up an automobile-manufacturing operation in the 1930s, Sakichi’s son Kiichiro headed the new venture. Kiichiro traveled to the United States to study Henry Ford’s system in operation. He returned with a strong grasp of Ford’s conveyor system and an even stronger determination to adapt that system to the small production volumes of the Japanese market.”

But is Henry Ford the genius Dr. Jeckyll or the notorious Mr. Hyde? I guess that’s for you to decide and for me to continue to learn about this 1900’s entrepreneur.


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