The Quick Biography of Alfred P. Sloan

A portrait of Alfred P. Sloan jr, with GM's HQ in the background

“The greatest real thrill that life offers is to create, to construct, to develop something useful. Too often we fail to recognize and pay tribute to the creative spirit. It is that spirit that creates our jobs.” – Alfred P. Sloan

During an interview in 1954, Alfred P. Sloan told NBC that the biggest challenge he had to solve was deciding what to do after finishing his studies.

This response came from a man who served as former vice president, chief executive, and board chairman of General Motors. Alfred Sloan attached this major life decision with feelings of frustration and discouragement.

He didn’t know what course his life would take, but fortunately, he got a job in a small automobile company that would later lead him to become an executive at General Motors.

The Life Story of Alfred P. Sloan

Alfred P. Sloan did not come from a lineage of people in business. His family comprised educators, professionals, and church ministers.

Sloan obtained his business acumen when working at Hyatt Roller Bearing Company (a small automobile company) and, later, General Motors.

Birth and Childhood

Sloan led a very private life, so much so that he destroyed most of his documents and ordered a complete wipeout after his death in 1966.

His autobiography, My Years with General Motors, tells the story of his time as the former president, CEO, and chairman of General Motors but not much about his personal life.

Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr. was born on May 23, 1875, in New Haven, Connecticut.

He was the first of five children of Alfred Pritchard Sloan Sr. and Katherine Mead Sloan. Sloan’s father was a machinist and later a partner in a small coffee and tea importer.

“Bedside manners are no substitute for the right diagnosis.”- Alfred P. Sloan

Education

Alfred Sloan attended public schools in Connecticut. He later went to Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, where he completed his college-preparatory course.

Sloan obtained his degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1892.

Sloan graduated as the youngest in his class. He had little patience for early childhood and education. He wanted to finish school quickly.

Early Career in the Automobile Industry

Upon attaining a degree in electrical engineering, Alfred Sloan worked as a draftsman and salesman in a small manufacturing company called the Hyatt Roller Bearing Company.

This company manufactured roller bearings used in car transmissions. The company was new, with 10 to 15 employees, enabling Sloan to rise quickly through the ranks. In 1899, he became president of Hyatt.

As president of Hyatt, Sloan tried out his decentralized management system, which enabled General Motors to become one of the most successful global companies.

This system gave division managers and heads the autonomy to make critical decisions without seeking the approval of their superiors, provided they followed a set of agreed-upon rules. It allowed managers to take risks that would help propel the growth of Hyatt.

“If you do it right 51 percent of the time you will end up a hero.” – Alfred P. Sloan

Road to Becoming President of General Motors

In 1916, Sloan sold the Hyatt Roller Bearing Company in a merger that led to the formation of the United Motors Corporation. Sloan became president of this newly formed company.

Two years later, the General Motors Corporation acquired the United Motors Corporation, during which Alfred Sloan became vice president of Accessories.

Alfred P. Sloan became president of General Motors in 1923 after the stepping down of Pierre S. du Pont. Sloan introduced his decentralized management system to General Motors, propelling the company’s success.

Under Sloan’s leadership, General Motors expanded overseas and increased its market share in the automobile industry.

Sloan became chairman of the GM’s board in 1937 while serving as the company’s chief executive officer. He stepped down as CEO in 1946, continuing to serve as chairman for another 10 years.

After his retirement, GM’s board of directors named him honorary chairman for his noteworthy contribution to growing GM into a global company.

“A car for every purse and purpose.” – Alfred P. Sloan

Achievements Outside of General Motors

Sloan spent a considerable amount of his time engaging in philanthropic activities.

He founded the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in 1934 and donated funds privately to various causes and groups, such as the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Sloan published his autobiography, My Years with General Motors, in 1964, which outlined his management policy. He also wrote Adventures of a White-Collar Man with Boyden Sparkes in 1941.

Sloan Implemented Strategies and Practices That Helped GM Become One of the Most Successful American Companies of the 20th Century.

Personal Life

Alfred P. Sloan married Irene Jackson in 1898, and the couple had two daughters, Kathryn and Helen. He was an avid golfer and enjoyed spending time at his vacation home in the Adirondacks.

Sloan also had a passion for art and collected works by several prominent artists, including Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

Alfred Sloan and his wife were known for their philanthropy and donated generously to various causes, including educational and medical institutions.

Death

Alfred P. Sloan died on February 17, 1966. He had been suffering from heart problems, and his health declined for several years before his death. Sloan passed away from a heart attack in New York City.

Alfred Sloan Was Inducted Into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1967

Closing Remarks

Sloan’s innovative decentralized management system transformed General Motors into one of the world’s most successful companies.

He was a visionary who advocated for teamwork, decentralized decision-making, and continuous improvement.

Alfred P. Sloan will always remain a business icon and a pioneer of modern management. His contributions to the automobile industry helped shape the future of this sector.

“There has to be this pioneer, the individual who has the courage, the ambition to overcome the obstacles that always develop when one tries to do something worthwhile, especially when it is new and different.” – Alfred P. Sloan

Timeline.Alfred Sloan Timeline

1875:

Alfred P. Sloan Jr. is born in New Haven, Connecticut.

1895:

Sloan joins the Hyatt Roller Bearing Company to work as a draftsman.

1898:

Sloan marries Irene Jackson.

1899:

Sloan becomes president and general manager of Hyatt Roller Bearing Company.

1916:

Hyatt Roller Bearing Company and other automobile accessory manufacturers merge with the United Motors Corporation. Sloan becomes president of the merged entity.

1918:

Sloan joins General Motors (GM) as vice president of accessories following a merger with United Motors.

1923:

Sloan becomes president and CEO of GM.

1924:

Sloan introduces the annual model change, encouraging consumers to exchange their old cars for new ones.

1926:

GM passes Ford to become the largest automobile manufacturer in the United States.

1934:

Sloan establishes the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to support scientific research and education.

1937:

Sloan becomes chairman of GM’s board of directors.

1946:

Sloan steps down as CEO of GM.

1956:

Sloan retires as chairman of GM’s board of directors.

1964:

Sloan publishes his book, My Years with General Motors, in which he outlines his management philosophy and the principles of the Sloan Management System.

1966:

Sloan dies at the age of 90.

Video Interview With Alfred P Sloan

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Lessons We Can Learn From Alfred P. Sloan

There are many lessons we can take from Alfred P. Sloan. I have included two that stood out for me that we can review next.

Lesson One: Dedication to Work

The first lesson we can look at it is Sloans’ dedication to his work.
Sloan had no friends at work and barely saw his wife because that was his choice.

This degree of dedication is rarely seen in the workplace. However, this type of dedication is similar to one that owns a business. You give it everything you have, and don’t let anything get in the way.

When you’re an employee, I believe you should give more than what you’re paid. Of course, how much more you give is up to you, but even small things matter.

For example, if you’re on salary, arriving a few minutes early and staying a few minutes late shows dedication.

I have been in management and employee positions, and I can tell you when you go the extra mile, managers see it. Even if nothing is said, they know it.

Instead of focusing on what I gain from my work, I consider how the company benefits from my efforts.

If the company benefits, then you’re doing your job; if not, what can you do to improve? Focusing on what you can do for your company provides extra value and dedication to your work, which will pay off in the long term because opportunities will appear.

Competent managers always choose the best person for the job.

So you can build your future by changing your mindset so that when an opportunity comes up, so will your name.

Lesson Two: Listening to Your Team

Among Sloan’s strengths was his ability to listen to his team. Alfred didn’t care what the rank of his managers was but would take the time to listen to what they had to say.

For example, during an upper-level management meeting to discuss the future of Cadilac. The discussion revolved around shutting it down and whether to keep the name for another vehicle or to forget the Cadillac brand altogether.

A lower-level manager, Nick Dreystadt, knocked on the door and said to the team I know you’re planning to shut down Cadillac, but we can save it.

He offered the team an idea, including expanding the target market. Other managers saw Nick s interruption as inappropriate, while Alfred Sloan took the time to listen to Nick, and he decided they would try the new plan.

So Nick Dreystadt saved the Cadillac brand by pitching his idea.

Smart managers must listen to their team members; here is one way to go about it.

First, understand that people working in operations strongly understand a company’s day-to-day activities.

They can point out flaws, weaknesses, strengths, and lost opportunities. So when someone from operations has something to say, listening is beneficial.

Second, it’s up to you to decide what is a good idea and what is not. Just because you have ideas coming to you doesn’t necessarily mean they are all good, and you need to act on each.

s a leader, it’s up to you to decide which ideas are worth looking into and which are not.

Third, when you have an open-door policy, it’s up to you to create a system that allows you to filter out the complaints and ideas that aren’t worth pursuing.

So, for example, if people come to you with complaints, you can say something like, you will need to discuss this with your supervisor first.

And if it doesn’t get resolved, you must follow the chain of command. Once you have gone through the chain of command and still can’t find a resolution, I would be happy to assist.

For those that bring you ideas, you can thank the person for their contribution and say something like the following. We will look at it and if we decide to move ahead. I may reach out to you for further feedback. But thank you, and keep the ideas flowing.

Frequently Asked Questions

The information in this post answers many of the questions about Alfred P Sloan. This section provides a summary and any additional information.

1. Who was Alfred P Sloan, and why is he important?

Alfred P. Sloan was an American businessman and engineer who served as the president and CEO of General Motors (GM) from 1923 to 1946.

He is widely recognized as one of the most influential executives in the history of the American automobile industry. He made GM one of the world’s largest and most profitable corporations and created the decentralized corporate management system.

2. What did Alfred Sloan invent?

Alfred Sloan was not an inventor but a businessman and executive who contributed to the American automobile industry and corporate management.

However, he and his corporate deputies created the General Motors Acceptance Corporation, the beginning of an auto loan credit system, which allowed car buyers to afford cars without having to save for years.

3. How did Alfred Sloan make his money?

Alfred Sloan made his fortune as a businessman and executive in the American automobile industry through General Motors.

4. What structure did Sloan adopt for General Motors?

During his tenure as the company’s president and CEO, Alfred P. Sloan created the modern corporate structure of General Motors (GM).

It was known as the Sloan Management System, which involved breaking the company down into smaller decentralized divisions, each with its own management team and budget.

5. When was Alfred P Sloan born?

Alfred P. Sloan was born on May 23, 1875.

6. Who owns General Motors?

General Motors (GM) is a publicly traded company owned by shareholders. As of 2023, the largest individual shareholder of GM is The Vanguard Group.

7. Did Alfred P Sloan have a child?

Alfred P. Sloan and his wife, Irene, had no children.

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