Served as production manager of Ford Motor Company’s Highland Park Plant
Joined General Motors in 1922 as Vice President of Chevrolet, advancing to President of General Motors in 1937
Received his native Denmark’s highest honor, the Cross of Danneborg, in recognition of his efforts on behalf of the Allied forces during World War II
William S. Knudsen’s talent for straight-forward thinking and decisive actions permitted him to advance from self-taught engineer to President of General Motors.
Knudsen was 20 when he emigrated from Denmark and found employment in an American shipyard. To improve his English, he took language lessons from neighborhood children. As his skills improved, Knudsen obtained better jobs and was soon performing vital production services in the John R. Keim Mills in Buffalo. In 1912, Ford Motor Company purchased the mills, and Knudsen was assigned to serve as production manager at Ford’s Highland Park plant in Michigan.
After eight years with Ford, Knudsen was recruited to join the Chevrolet division of General Motors. Knudsen was instrumental in making Chevrolet the financial backbone of the GM system, producing the most vehicles and the greatest revenue of any GM division.
Knudsen credited his success to his early hands-on experience, noting that “The man who has been a mechanic has an advantage in the art of handling men. He has worked with such men himself.”