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Don't steal my thunder

Henry Ford the American legend, was obsessed with being the only shareholder and manager of his company.  Ford carefully analysed the work and its flow and broke up the tasks into the smallest possible elements so that tasks could be performed without application of mind or spirit repeatedly by faceless and nameless workers. Henry Ford designed his operations so that workers were completely dispensable and easily replaceable by any other able bodied worker.

This approach inhumane as it may appear, gave the brilliant Henry Ford, tremendous improvements in productivity and savings in cost, helping Ford to leave his competitors a long way behind. Initial success was phenomenal. In early 1920’s Ford motor company’s share of American automotive market was an eye popping 75%. This approach soon thereafter became a norm in all industries. (This is why majority of trade union activities focussed more on work conditions than only on increase in wages.)

Henry Ford was obsessed with being in personal control. He employed a private secret police headed by the notorious Mr. Harry Bennett which was brutal and had a two point agenda; to ensure that no Ford executive made any decisions and that no worker should express an opinion or an emotion.

Management team is the most precious asset of any organisation and one that needs a long time to develop and build up and a very short time of bad leadership to destroy. Henry Ford continuously attacked his own management team, he remained the only manager in the organisation.

Henry Ford the greatest asset of Ford Motor Company soon became its greatest unsustainable liability.

By 1939 Ford's market share had dropped to 20%.  The company was losing at that time US$ 10 Million per month and was eventually revived only by the professional approach of Henry Ford II who was Henry Ford’s grandson.

Never been groomed for the job of owner and President, Henry Ford II realised that he needed management help. He hired 10 very competent men to assist him.

In 1946 the company hired a smart, hardworking youngster called Lee Iacocca. His marketing, planning and execution skills saw him reach the top position of Ford as President in 1970.

Against all opposition and great odds. Iacocca was successful in developing a series of highly successful vehicles, the most notable was the Ford Mustang.

In the first two years the car made over $1.1 billion in net profits – in 1964 dollars.  Iacocca’s photo appeared on the cover of both Newsweek and Time in the same week.  

But Iacocca had overstepped the bounds of political power.  He had become a public figure, which did not sit well with Henry Ford II.  Over the next  ten years their relationship would deteriorate.

In 1978 Henry Ford II dismissed Iacocca as President in spite of the fact that Ford Motor Company posted a record US$ 2 Billion profit. Publicly Ford said "You just don't like some people". Privately he told Iacocca "Don't steal my thunder".

A truly great person is able to transcend his or her ego. Unfortunately the head of many families and organisations suffer from great insecurity, bogged down with conspiracy theories and hence have extremely fragile egos. If they have overpowering, unchecked authority without checks and balance they become  their own and their family /organisation's worst enemy.


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