Cover image for Sloan rules : Alfred P. Sloan and the triumph of General Motors
Sloan rules : Alfred P. Sloan and the triumph of General Motors
Farber, David R.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xii, 292 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HD9710.U52 S494 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Alfred P. Sloan Jr. became the president of General Motors in 1923 and stepped down as its CEO in 1946. During this time, he led GM past the Ford Motor Company and on to international business triumph by virtue of his brilliant managerial practices and his insights into the new consumer economy he and GM helped to produce. Bill Gates has said that Sloan's 1964 management tome, My Years with General Motors , "is probably the best book to read if you want to read only one book about business." And if you want to read only one book about Sloan, that book should be historian David Farber's Sloan Rules .

Here, for the first time, is a study of both the difficult man and the pathbreaking executive. Sloan Rules reveals the GM genius as not only a driven manager of men, machines, money, and markets but also a passionate and not always wise participant in the great events of his day. Sloan, for example, reviled Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal; he firmly believed that politicians, government bureaucrats, and union leaders knew next to nothing about the workings of the new consumer economy, and he did his best to stop them from intervening in the private enterprise system. He was instrumental in transforming GM from the country's largest producer of cars into the mainstay of America's "Arsenal of Democracy" during World War II; after the war, he bet GM's future on renewed American prosperity and helped lead the country into a period of economic abundance. Through his business genius, his sometimes myopic social vision, and his vast fortune, Sloan was an architect of the corporate-dominated global society we live in today.

David Farber's story of America's first corporate genius is biography of the highest order, a portrait of an extraordinarily compelling and skillful man who shaped his era and ours.

Author Notes

David Farber is a professor of history at the University of New Mexico. His books include Chicago '68 , also published by the University of Chicago Press.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Early in the auto industry's history, Alfred P. Sloan trounced the monolith that was Henry Ford, turning the ambitious but messily sprawling empire of General Motors into a smoothly humming money-making machine. His 1964 book on management, My Years with General Motors, is a business classic, and his methods placed GM at the top of the automobile world, yet he remains unknown. Farber, a University of New Mexico history professor, admits that studying this invisible man Sloan left behind no private papers or correspondence of any kind, and GM destroyed all of his corporate papers was a quixotic task, but one worth attempting, because beneath Sloan's icy, patrician demeanor beat the heart of a pure businessman who was so committed to the pursuit of his profession that he took almost no pleasure in it. Although he proved a master at realigning GM's divisions in the 1920s after the chaotic rule of the company's previous leader, William Durant, it wasn't the cars Sloan really loved, it was the numbers: "The manufacture of correct assessments, not physical products, is what most gratified Alfred Sloan." Farber's efforts to bring Sloan to life ultimately fail, however, and there are times when Farber's tale seems more about the trials and tribulations of General Motors than any one man, who in some passages seems to pop up only as an afterthought. This outcome would no doubt have made Sloan happy, leaving him forever safe and hidden, a true ghost in the machine. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov.) Forecast: Displaying this alongside the 1996 Doubleday paperback edition of My Years with General Motors could help sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Whether or not one accepts the often-repeated adage that the fortunes of General Motors and the US are inexorably linked, General Motors is central to the industrial and cultural history of the 20th-century US. And Alfred P. Sloan is central to the emergence, organization, and influence of General Motors. Farber (history, New Mexico Univ.) has produced a discerning history of Sloan's managerial style and the development of corporate policies within the context of a shifting economic and political landscape. A manager whose practices influenced generations of executives who sought to emulate him, Sloan was an intensely private man who used his wealth to influence policies and endow foundations and universities to promote knowledge and private enterprise. Since Sloan so effectively shielded his personal life, this interesting biography focuses on Sloan's life as a corporate executive and his efforts to influence American consumers and public policies over several decades. It is a compelling study of an innovative business manager committed to business. Farber outlines not only how Sloan helped define modern corporate management and mass marketing but also how he struggled with organized labor, resisted New Deal regulations, and then seemingly ignored some ugly political realities while heading an international business enterprise. Summing Up: Recommended. Public and academic library collections; lower-division undergraduates through faculty. T. E. Sullivan Towson University

Table of Contents

1 Sloan's Work
2 Sloan the Executive
3 Sloan Navigates a New Course
4 Sloan in Control
5 Sloan Enters Society
6 Mr. Sloan Goes to Washington
7 Sloan and the New Deal
8 Sloan at War
9 Sloan Rules Afterword