On My Years With General Motors

I recently finished reading My Years With General Motors by Alfred P. Sloan.

This is a true business classic. In this book Alfred Sloan shares his years of wisdom – while heading General Motors – in a variety of areas including planning, strategy, finance, leadership, innovation and management. Alfred was a true pioneer of his time in building the discipline of management and his approach is just as applicable now as it was in the early 1900s.

Below are key lessons in the form of excerpts that I found particularly insightful from this must read classic.

1- “I feel that a proper balance can and must necessarily be established in the course of time between the activities of any particular Operation and that of all our Operations together and as I see the picture at the moment no better way or even as good a way has yet been advanced as to ask those members of each organization who have the same functional relationship to get together and decide for themselves what should be done where coordination is necessary, giving such a group the power to deal with the problem where it is felt that the power can be constructively applied. I believe that such a plan properly developed gives the necessary balance between each Operation and the Corporation itself and will result in all the advantages of co-ordinated action where such action is of benefit in a broader way without in any sense limiting the initiative of independence of action of any component part of the group.”

2- “I am not going to say that rate of return is a magic want for every occasion in business. There are times when you have to spend money just to stay in business, regardless of the visible rate of return…Nevertheless, no other financial principle with which I am acquainted serves better than rate of return as an objective aid to business judgment.”

3- “The growth in the capital employed in General Motors reflects the progress of the corporation. In an economy based on competition, we have operated as rational businessmen, a fact I have tried to demonstrate with  close description of the development of our approach to management. The result has been an efficient enterprise. It should be noted that a rising successful economy like that of the United States is not only an opportunity, it is also very demanding on those whose ambition is to excel in it. ”

4- “I believe that the franchise system (dealerships), which has long prevailed in the automobile industry, is the best one for manufacturers, dealers, and consumers.”

5- “The potential rewards of the Bonus Plan to ego satisfaction generate a tremendous driving force within the Corporation…To the recipient it is also an evaluation of his personal contribution to the success of the business. It is a means of conveying to the executive a form of recognition which he prizes independently of his monetary compensation.”

6- “It has been a thesis of this book that good management rests on a reconciliation of centralization and decentralization, or “decentralization with coordinated  control.” Each of the conflicting elements brought together in this concept has its unique results in the operation of a business. From decentralization we get initiative,  responsibility,  development of personnel, decisions close to the facts, flexibility – in short, all the qualities necessary for an organization to adapt to new conditions. From coordination we get efficiencies and economies It must be apparent that c-oordinated decentralization is not an easy concept to apply.”

7- “…To meet the challenge of the market place, we must recognize changes in customer needs and desires far enough ahead to have the right products in the rights places at the right time and in the right quantity. We must balance trends in preference against the many compromises that are necessary volume. We must design, not just the cars we would like to build, but more importantly, the cars that our customers want to buy.”

8- “I also hope I have not left an impression that the organization runs itself automatically. An organization does not make decisions; its function is to provide a framework, based upon established criteria, within which decisions can be fashioned in an orderly manner. Individuals make decisions and take the responsibility for them.”


Omar Halabieh

My Years with General Motors


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