Aspire | Action | Acquire
Aspire | Action | Acquire

$Billion thinking

Some 70 years after his death, the name Henry Ford still casts a long shadow over the empire he created. As the founder of The Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford is also considered to be the father of Twentieth Century industrial manufacturing. Just as we talk about living in “computer age” today, Ford’s pioneering of the mass production is often referred to as “Fordism”. This reverence is given to no other pioneer of and industry era before or since.

Ford grew up on a farm in Dearborn Michigan. It is true that he didn’t have the education of, say, Sam Walton of Wal-Mart who also grew up on a farm and was university educated. Henry Ford, however, was no less inquisitive than Sam Walton or Walt Disney; who too grew up on a farm and completed several college courses. A voracious want to acquire knowledge is a published characteristic of billionaires. The want to acquire knowledge should not automatically be confused with attaining formal educational qualifications.

After completing eight years of basic education in a single room school in Dearborn, Ford left for Detroit to take up a three-year machining apprenticeship at the age of sixteen; which he apparently completed well ahead of time while also working nights doing watch repairs in a jewellery shop. The model of learning while earning, that is common today, was then novel. Following a path laid by Andrew Carnegie, who installed reading rooms for workers at this steel mills, Ford founded a Trade School in 1916 for educating underprivileged youth to become automobile draftsmen and technicians while they worked.

Not long after graduating from his apprenticeship, Ford returned to the farm and set up a workshop doing engine repairs for the Westinghouse Company.  He would build his first car engine in a barn on his father’s farm. This was well before Stanford University educated founders of the Hewlett Packard Company gained notoriety their Silicon Valley garage-based start-up in the late 1930s. Garage start-ups, and even the college dormitory start-ups of Microsoft and Facebook at Harvard, became commonplace in the late twentieth century.

Pitted against Ford commercially was Alfred Sloan, who organizationally shaped General Motors. Sloan graduated from MIT where a management school is named in his honour. He was installed by Pierre S du Pont of the DuPont Company to lead General Motors. Du Pont used his investment in General Motors to displace its acquisitive founder, William C Durant. It is a footnote in history that Ford offered to sell his company and was rebuffed by General Motors’ bankers (J.P. Morgan & Co.) as being too expensive at eight million dollars.[1]

The du Pont family differentiate themselves from the early titans in respect of their education. Dating back to its patriarch, Éleuthère Irénée du Pont who arrived from Paris in 1800 after studying chemistry, successive generations have attended American universities; most commonly Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  In 1909, Coleman du Pont, Pierre S.’s cousin and business partner, offered MIT $500,000 for the purpose of relocating its campus to Cambridge. This was after an offer by Andrew Carnegie was turned down for making his donation conditional upon a co-funding being found.

Andrew Carnegie’s rejected donation was conditional upon a joint financier being found. This was a feature of more than two-and-a-half-thousand libraries Carnegie would co-fund. Carnegie’s name would also become attached to a technical institute he founded in Pittsburgh now named Carnegie-Mellon University. He also funded scholarships at St Andrew’s University, in Scotland and was elected twice as its provost.

Today, Bill Gates, through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, continues a tradition. It is worthy of note that the Microsoft co-founders, Bill Gates and the late Paul Allen, donated a new math-science building to Lakeside in memory of their classmate, and fellow coder, Kent Evans.[2] Gates and Allen, like Andrew Carnegie, commenced their philanthropy before reaching the pinnacle of their financial wealth. Amongst its benefactions, the Gates Foundation has funded a computer science research building at Carnegie Mellon University.


[1] Frederick L. Allen, The Lords of Creation: The History of America’s 1 Percent, ed. Mark C. Miller (New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2017), 142.

[2] 1. Stephen Manes, and Paul Andrews, Gates: How Microsoft’s Mogul Reinvented an Industry and Made Himself the Richest Man in America, (New York: Touchstone, 1994), 45-46.