…well, about 100 years ago in America…there was a visionary man who led society through a monumental technological disruption – his name was Henry Ford – and he and his organisation changed the world through his desire to ‘democratise the automobile’.
His success in putting the internal combustion engine on wheels devastated the ‘technology’ it replaced – the horse – and its many related industries (stables, horse feed and bedding, saddleries and tack shops, blacksmiths and farriers,….) although, on the plus side, it dissolved the huge problem of ever increasing amounts of horse manure pilling up on city streets!
We talk about modern technological disruptions, like the mobile phone or internet, happening quickly (in years) but we should reflect that profound technological shifts can occur pretty swiftly, whatever the age.
I imagine that once one ape invented the spear, then the rest changed ‘technology’ quicker than you can say “I wonder what those long pointy things are that I can see hurtling through the air towards us?”
The change from the horse to the car was pretty dramatic too:
Okay, so Henry Ford was on the right side of a technological disruption…but, whilst this was necessary, it was much more than luck that made the Ford Motor Co. such a success2.
So what were Henry’s core philosophies, and what ‘gems’ might we learn from him in this modern time of technological disruptions? These were his foundations:
- ‘Service power’;
- The ‘Wage motive’; and
- ‘Money power’.
Henry was fanatically clear that a business is only there because of the people that buy its products and services. Without them it wouldn’t exist and, as such, the customer (the public, society) is the point. Full Stop!
“Since the public makes a business, the primary obligation of business is to the public.”
(He nicely clarified that “Those who work for and with the business are part of this public.”)
This is so much more than the trendy “customer centric” mantra, in which we are usually shown a lovely circle with the customer conveniently arranged in the middle BUT, and this is the problem, all the other ‘conventional thinking’ management orthodoxy is retained around the outside3.
And to make it absolutely concrete in your mind as to what Ford really meant, he explained as follows:
“The true course of business is to follow the fortunes and pursue the service of those who had faith in it from the beginning – the public.
- If there is any saving in manufacturing cost, let it go to the public;
- If there is any increase in profits, let it be shared with the public in lowered prices;
- If there is any improvement [in the quality of the service] let it be made without question, for whatever the capital cost, it was first the public that supplied the capital.
That is the true course for good business to steer, and it is good business, for there is no better partnership a business can enter than a partnership of service with the people.
It is far safer, far more durable and more profitable than partnership with a money power.”
Everything Ford did was with the customer at heart i.e could he provide the public with a cheaper car and yet also make it better than the ones he made yesterday? If he could do this, he knew that customer demand would continue to rise and profitability would be the least of his worries. ‘Customer, customer, customer’ provides growth and profitability – THAT WAY AROUND.
To make it cheaper and better for the customer, Henry was obsessed with constantly studying, experimenting and improving the process – through fanatical cleanliness and maintenance, ever deeper removal of waste (transportation, movement, scrap…), re-use of anything and everything, in-sourcing wherever possible, constant technological breakthroughs, decentralisation to where the work should be…and so on4.
And Henry didn’t just think about his automobile customers, he thought about the whole system (society) because he realised that it was all really one and the same thing. This led him into all sorts of interesting ventures that supported, and enabled, the core purpose.
In short: THE foundational ‘thing’ that made the Ford Motor Co. such a huge success was that Henry truly believed that his master was the public.
The Wage Motive:
And so we move from customers to employees (the worker).
The ‘wage motive’ was Henry’s phrase for his philosophy that “one’s own employees ought to be one’s own best customers.” If the workers truly prosper then they will love, buy and advocate for the products (e.g. cars) they make…which will create an ever-improving product, a superb reputation and expanding customer demand…which enables the workers to prosper – and off we go round the circle.
He goes on to write that “If an employer does not share prosperity with those who make him prosperous, then pretty soon there will be no prosperity to share.”
Now, Henry was no Saint – he was a man of his times – but he wanted to do the right thing. Significantly, he learned from his early worker experiences and saw that the best, and only logical approach, was for his system to work with, and for, the worker, not against them.
He paid them high wages (far higher than they could receive elsewhere), provided regular employment (replacing the uncertainty of casual labour with steady work), reduced the standard working week to 8 hours for 5 days, insisted that Sunday was a day off for all, and provided them with excellent working and living conditions. Any worker that wanted more than manual repetitive work was given the chance to better themselves through training and increased responsibilities.
And finally, given that Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, he was very clear that improvement was about bettering people and not about getting rid of people:
“Nobody with us ever thinks about improvement lessening the number of jobs, for we all know that exactly the contrary happens. We know that these improvements will lessen costs and therefore widen markets and make more jobs at higher wages.”
In fact, Henry got rid of (incentive driven) piece-work and created a profit sharing arrangement in the form of share ownership (more on this in Chapter 4)
And last, but not least, to money. Over to Henry:
“There’s nothing to be said against the financier – the man who really understands the management of money and its place in life….but it is very different with the professional financier, who finances for the sake of financing and what he can get out of it in money, without a thought of the welfare of the people…
[Moneys] proper place [is] as one of the cogs in the wheel, not the wheel itself…
This is not to say that money and profits are not necessary in business. Business must be run at a profit, else it will die. But when anyone attempts to run a business solely for profit…then also the business must die, for it no longer has a reason for existence….
A business cannot serve both the public and the money power.
Money put into business as a lien on its assets is Dead money, its main purpose becomes the production of payments for the owners of that money. The service of the public [will] be secondary. If quality of goods jeopardizes these payments, then the quality is cut down. If full service cuts into the payments, then service is cut down. This kind of money does not serve business. It seeks to make business serve it.
Live money goes into the business to work and to share with the business. It is there to be used. It shares whatever losses there may be. It is asset to the last penny and never a liability.
Live money in a business is usually accompanied by the active labour of the man or men who put it there. Dead money is a sucker-plant….
Business that exists to feed profits to people who are not engaged, and never will be engaged in it, stands on a false basis.…Profits of business are due:
- first, to the business itself as a serviceable instrument of humanity [i.e. to constantly improve the service to its customers], and then
- to the people whose labour and contributions of energy make the business a going concern [i.e. its employees]…
The true course of business is to follow the fortunes and pursue the service of those who had faith in it from the beginning – the public…
The best defence any people can have against their control by mere money is a business system that is strong and healthy through rendering wholesome service to the community.
…and so I (and Henry) have set the scene as to what this ‘story’ is all about – customers, employees and money…and in particular, how do large floating (i.e. short-term thinking) shareholder owned organisations ‘fit’…and most importantly, (how) can their structure be altered to provide a foundation for a long term win/win/win for all?.
1. All of Henry Ford’s quotes above come from his 1926 book ‘Today and Tomorrow’.
2. Ford Success: Just in case you doubt this success (and accepting that money is a poor measure) Forbes estimates that, in today’s money, Henry Ford was worth around US$200 Billion….more than double anyone alive today.
3. Note to self: I’ve still got to write the post that slaughters the ‘Balanced Scorecard’ sacred cow! It’s been on my ‘to do’ list for far too long because other stuff keeps on popping up every day.
4. Toyota: If you’re a follower of Taiichi Ohno and, upon reading the above, think “Hang on, didn’t Toyota invent all that stuff?!”, here’s a rather nice quote to reflect upon:
“I met Taiichi Ohno on a Japanese study mission. When bombarded with questions from our group on what inspired his thinking, he just laughed and said he learned it all from Henry Ford’s book.” (Norman Bodek)