April 2, 1956 – Alfred P. Sloan, GM chairman, retires

Alfred P. Sloan proved that even MIT graduates have a hard time finding work. After receiving his diploma in 1895, Sloan entered what he described as the most discouraging period of his life. That era ended with a job as a draftsman at Hyatt Roller Bearing Company. In 1899, after his father bought the company, he became general manager. In that position he recognized the company’s potential role in the emerging automotive industry and pushed to build products for it. Hyatt finally landed its first automotive client, Oldsmobile, in 1916. Not long after, Hyatt merged with several other companies to become United Motors Company, which General Motors acquired by 1920. Following the sale of UMC to GM, Sloan earned the title of vice president of operations at General Motors. From there, he would climb the corporate ladder.

alfred p. sloan
Above: Sloan in 1937. Top: Sloan in 1927 with a Chevrolet

In the early 1920s, General Motors suffered from an identify crisis, though its hard to argue it ever had one in the first place. To bring some definition to the company, GM elected Sloan as its president in 1923. His efforts to remove inefficiencies and dial in manufacturing processes helped GM survive the Great Depression, war and other economic hardships over the next 30 years. Among Sloan’s greatest innovations are annual styling updates for vehicles and determining a pricing structure to prevent inner-company automakers from competing with each other (i.e., Chevrolet -> Pontiac -> Oldsmobile -> Buick -> Cadillac). This encouraged consumers to always buy GM, regardless of the depth of their pocket.

In 1937, after building General Motors into one of the world’s largest companies, GM elected Sloan Chairman of the Board. He served in this role until his retirement on this day in 1956. Sloan said of his his success at GM, “The ability to get people to work together is of the greatest importance.” Sloan passed away 10 years after his retirement at the age of 90.

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