A consummate businessman and humanitarian
James Couzens played a fundamental role in the birth of Ford Motor Company. Born in Chatham, Ontario in 1872, Couzens received a formal education at a business college before moving to Detroit, Michigan in 1890. He found work as a railroad car checker for the New York Central Railroad, where his industrious work ethic was noticed by one Alexander Malcomson, who hired Couzens as a clerk at his coal business in 1897.
Malcomson was a major stockholder for the soon to be formed Ford Motor Company, and was seeking additional investors for Henry Ford’s burgeoning firm. Couzens borrowed heavily and invested $2500 to become one of Ford’s original stockholders, and when Ford Motor Company was founded in 1903, he was made company secretary. Couzens would eventually take over all of Ford’s business management, and become vice president and general manager. He oversaw Ford’s introduction of the Model T and guided the company’s rise to worldwide prominence. Though they had helped make each other very wealthy, the relationship between Ford and Couzens eventually soured. In 1915, Couzens resigned his position as general manager but retained a seat on the board. He would step down from Ford altogether in 1919, and sold his stock in the company back to Henry Ford for $30 million dollars. Following his departure from Ford, Couzens was elected mayor of Detroit. He served as mayor from 1919 to 1922, when he was appointed to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by a resignation. He was elected again two years later, and would serve on the U.S. Senate until his death in 1936.
Couzens was also a noted philanthropist who donated much of his wealth to civic causes, especially those relating to children. He established the Children’s Fund of Michigan with a $10,000,000 grant, and donated $1 million to Children’s Hospital of Michigan. He also contributed $550,000 of his own money to create a housing project called Westacres in West Bloomfield, Michigan. As businessman, senator, and humanitarian, James Couzens demonstrated that a true measure of talent is not only how you enrich your own life, but the lives of those around you as well.