Alfred P. Sloan was the mastermind behind the rise of General Motors during the 20th century. Sloan was born in 1875 in New Haven, CT. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated in 1895. After graduation, Sloan began what he later described as “the most discouraging period of his life” while he was searching for employment.
After much effort, he obtained a position as a draftsman at the Hyatt Roller Bearing Company. He became general manager in 1899 after his father purchased the company. Recognizing that Hyatt could play a vital role in the emerging automotive industry, Sloan began to diversify the company’s interests. Oldsmobile became Hyatt’s first automotive customer in 1916, with many more following. Hyatt later merged with several other companies to become the United Motors Company, which became part of General Motors Corporation.
Sloan was named vice president of Operations for GM in 1920. Three years later, at a time when General Motors was still struggling to define itself, Sloan was named president. Sloan began methodically examining all facets of GM’s operations. Over the next decade, he transformed GM from a loose confederation of companies into an efficient, carefully coordinated manufacturer. Sloan is credited with innovations such as annual styling changes for vehicles and a pricing structure that organized the Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac brands from least to most expensive. This ensured that the brands did not directly compete and encouraged customers to continue buying GM vehicles even as their purchasing power and personal preferences changed.
Under Sloan’s management, General Motors became the industry sales leader and one of the world’s largest industrial entities. He was made chairman of the Board of GM in 1937, serving in that capacity until his retirement in 1956. Sloan attributed his success at GM to one factor: “The ability to get people to work together is of the greatest importance.”