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A Model For Mad Men

By Art van Bodegraven | 03/07/2018 | 8:43 AM

Please enjoy the thoughts and musings of our friend, supporter, and long-time contributor Art van Bodegraven Jr., who passed away on June 18, 2017. Art was a prolific writer and had amassed a collection of unpublished blog posts he had planned to run well into the future. To honor his memory, we will continue to post these remaining blogs as he had intended. If you’ve been a fan of The Art of Art blog, check out our tribute.


Once upon a time, a living exemplar of The Man In The Grey Flannel Suit, populated, even dominated, the burgeoning universe of American business.  Uniformity, but brilliance, fueled by a three-martini lunch.  Before Don Draper's fall from grace.  

Just imagine what it's like, wearing flannel; it'd be like walking about in winter sheets.

Alfred P. Sloan (P. For Pritchard) was a brilliant businesss mind, surpassing Henry Ford, as he built General Motors from the framework of United Motors (his father having bought a bearing company that prospered from its relationship with Oldsmobile).  Born with a silver lug wrench, so to speak, he went on to Brooklyn Polytechnic, then to MIT.

Alfred personified the "organization man", educated, from the right side of the tracks, and superbly organized.  He pioneered techniques later perfected by IBM's Thomas Watson: annual model changes; planned obsolescence; design; styling; brand identity; ; financial management; and ruthless industry dominance.  His creation defined an age, defied performance paradigms, and became humankind's largest-ever industrial enterprise.

He was not an aesthete or visionary, but a shrewd manager of diversity, a philanthropic engineer and  super-rational devotee of inventories and moving/selling sheet metal.

His power was immense, the original celebrity business leader, in the mold of Jack Welch (or Steve Jobs with a soul).

Without a soul, GM (somewhat like IBM or Renault) collaborated with the German Nazis to  put Opel and GM at the service of the Reich.  Without GM, there would have been no Messerschmidt, no invasion of Poland or Russia.

The ultimate right was GM's to run its global business.  Meanwhile, Ford engaged in violence against its workers; GM took the espionage route; each was intent on its own definition of success.

Alfred's steely and perpetual visage still looks down on the GM board room in Detroit's RenCen, where his hopeful legacy focuses on education, health care, and sundry magnificent good deeds.

This is the legacy of the tyrant whose hubris destroyed the colossus he had conceived and built - the man who ruined GM (and poisoned its workforce).



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About Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven (1939 - 2017) was Managing Principal of the van Bodegraven Associates consultancy and Founding Principal of Discovery Executive Services, which develops and delivers supply chain educational programs. He was formerly Chair of the Supply Chain Group AG, Partner at The Progress Group LLC, Development Executive at CSCMP, Practice Leader with S4 Consulting, and a Managing Director in Coopers & Lybrand's consulting practice. Concentrating in supply chain management and logistics for over 20 years in his 50+ year business career, he has led ground-breaking strategic, operational, and educational projects for leading US and global clients. Art was principal co-author of DC Velocity's Basic Training monthly column for a decade, and was the principal co-author, with Ken Ackerman, of Fundamentals of Supply Chain Management, the definitive primer in the field. His popular blog, The Art of Art, has been a staple of DC Velocity's web site since its inception.


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