Henry Ford was a paradox of American values.
Born on a farm in the heartland, he was a believer in traditional American values. He didn’t smoke, drink or carry on. His vice was working and plenty of it. He dreamt of making a car at a cheap price that could make life easier for the average American.
He did it. He made a car that everyone could afford. He elevated the standard of living for farmers and everyday people. This was achieved through the assembly line building of cars which entailed building large factories employing thousands of people. Ford was one of the first companies to give Americans a living wage.
Yet there was a price to be paid.
The American car Ford championed soon spawned new industries such as trucking and homebuilding thus furthering corporate growth. Suburbs sprang up biting into the heartland. In time city values replaced rural values. Americans now had more time for leisure, drinking and idleness all of which Ford despised.
Soon a world emerged which Ford did not know.
In becoming wealthy, he grew out of touch with Americans and their needs. He built himself a fantasy mansion- over 30,000 square feet for a few people – far removed from the real world and its peoples. Soon he became a tyrant to the people he first enabled. He resisted unions and in so doing strengthened them.
As he grew older he became more paranoid and distrustful of the world he helped create. He blamed the world’s problems on international financiers. Yet his company more than many others became a prime mover in that corporate world.
The corporate world, its complexities, its attendant foundations, its omnipresent advertising is Henry Ford’s creation.
Ultimately Ford Motor Company became the end of the American worker. As unions grew in power they became unmanageably corrupt. Management threw up their hands in frustration. Being equally corrupt, they sold off the parts and moved their operations to Mexico.
The American heartland now stands bankrupt in a sea of poverty and despair. The old rust belt cities that Henry Ford helped build are slowly decaying. Former workers have become addicted to drugs by the millions.
So what went wrong?
What went wrong was losing sight of the purpose of a business. The purpose of a business is NOT to make money which is what is taught in the modern business school. The purpose of a business is to enable people, to enhance their lives. If that is accomplished, the money will take care of itself. If that is not accomplished, the end is sure to come.
Henry Ford forgot that. If his successors have not yet been taught that lesson, they soon will be.