Aspire | Action | Acquire
Aspire | Action | Acquire

What’s in a Name

In 1919 Henry Ford brought a defamation claim against the Chicago Tribune newspaper for an editorial describing him as an ignorant idealist and anarchist. Ford revolutionized automobile production by reversing the chain-line disassembly process of meat production and imitating practices used to mass-assemble handguns. During the twentieth century Fordism came to denote the mass production systems adapted across a breadth of industries beyond automobile manufacturing. No other industrial pioneer, and Ford wasn’t an inventor, has been aligned to an economic era by their name before or since.

A common understanding amongst people who accrue billionaire wealth is the value attached to their reputation. Corporations today refer to this as brand equity. In his autobiography Henry Ford wrote: “When one of my cars breaks down I know I am to blame.”[1] Equally aware of the value of his reputation Ford’s one-time employer and long-time friend, Thomas Edison, once complained to a Chicago Tribune correspondent about his lack of recognition by learned men. Edison became embittered by attacks on him as “an unschooled self-promoter greedy for money rather than the austere accolades of learned society.”[2]

In his book What it takes, Stephen A Schwarzman, the billionaire founder of the global private equity group Blackstone, asserted that you have to think long term to earn a great reputation. “I have been building my reputation since growing up in suburban Philadelphia, true to those middle-class values of honey, hard work, respect for other, and always doing what you say you will.” He also demanded the same of his employees, writing “stick to our values and never risk our reputation.” he wrote.[3] The twentieth century’s most successful billionaire investor, Warren Buffet, has echoed similar sentiments.

During his 1990s bailout of the investment bank Salomon Brothers, Buffett is quoted for saying “Lose money for the firm, and I will be understanding. Lose a shred of reputation for the firm, and I will be ruthless.” In biographer Alice Schroeder’s words: “Openness, integrity, extreme honesty, all the things he meant to stand for: Buffett meant for Salomon to stand for them too.”[4] The notion that values count was not lost on other like Sam Walton, who described his as “bedrock” and based on “hard work, honesty, neighbourliness, and thrift”[5] They are the same values described by Neil Garber that Walt Disney sought to portray[6]

The emphasis on non-monetary values contrasts with those of people jailed for financial indiscretions over the last 50 years for leveraged corporate buyouts with junk bonds, unauthorised futures market trading, pyramid investment schemes, and insider trading. Providing a lesson from the past, the reputation of J.P. Morgan saved America’s banking system from collapses caused by over-speculation in watered stocks by the likes of Daniel Drew, James Fisk, and Jay Gould. Morgan’s ability to raise money is noted in John Winkler’s 1931 biography as “a tremendous demonstration of the asset value of one man’s reputation.”[7]

[1] Henry Ford, My Life and Work: An Autobiography of Henry Ford (Lockport N.Y: Snowball Publishing, 2012), 49.

[2] Edmund Morris, Edison (New York: Random House, 2019), 393.

[3] Schwarzman, Stephen A., What it Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence (London: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2019), 165.

[4] Alice Schroeder, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life (London: Bloomsbury, 2009), 509.

[5] Sam Walton, and J. Huey , Sam Walton Made in America: My Story, (New York: Bantam Books, 1992), 88-9.

[6] Neal Gabler, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (New York NY: Vintage Books, 2007), 48.

[7] John K. Winkler, Morgan the Magnificent: The Life of J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) (New York: The Vanguard Press, 1931), 199.