Greatest Canadian I’d Never Heard Of


I’ve been going through all my notes from the past year and going through chapter 15 (“The New Venture”) of Peter Drucker’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship:Practice and Principles, I came across the story of James Couzens.

Couzens was Henry Ford’s right hand man and saved the company from bankruptcy after Ford lost his touch.  After working at Ford, Couzens went on to become the mayor of Detroit and a senator for Michigan; Drucker speculates that he might have become the president were he not born in Canada.

Here’s what Drucker writes about Couzens (pages 204-05):

There is an even earlier and more instructive example (of the founder needing to ask “where do I belong” in the organization), that of Henry Ford.  When Ford decided in1903 to go into business for himself, he did exactly what Honda did forty years later: before starting, he found the right man to be his partner and to run the areas where Ford knew he did not belong-administration, finance, distribution, marketing, sales and personnel.  Like Honda, Henry Ford knew he belonged in engineering and manufacturing and was going to confine himself to those areas.  The man he found, James Couzens, contributed as much as Ford to the success of the company.  Many of the best known policies and practices of the Ford Motor Company for which Henry Ford is often given credit - the famous $5-a-day wage of 1913, or the pioneering distribution and service policies, for example - were Couzens’s ideas and at first resisted by Ford.  So effective did Couzens become that Ford grew increasingly jealous of him and forced him out in 1917.  The last straw was Couzens’s insistence that the Model T was obsolescent and his proposal to use some of the huge profits of the company to work on a successor.

    The Ford Motor Company grew and prospered to the day of Couzens’s resignation.  Within a few short months thereafter, as soon as Henry Ford had taken every single top management function into his own hands, forgetting that he had known earlier where he belonged, the Ford Motor company began its long decline.  Henry Ford clung to the Model T for a full ten years, until it had become literally unsalable.  And the company’s decline was not reversed for thirty years after Couzens’s dismissal until, with his grandfather dying, a very young Henry Ford II took over the practically bankrupt business.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

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