Alfred Pritchard Sloan, Jr. (1875–1966) was an American automobile executive and philanthropist. He pioneered in automotive innovation and built General Motors into one of the world’s largest companies.
Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Sloan attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1895. He joined Hyatt Rolling Bearing Company as a drafter, but became its president and general manager at the age 26 when his father bought control of the company.
Sloan sold the company to William C. Durant, the chief of General Motors (GM,) and became president of Durant’s United Motors Corporation. In 1918, Sloan became a vice president and member of the GM executive committee. He made president in 1920 and CEO in 1923. Over the next 23 years, until he retired in 1956, he grew GM’s market share from 12% to 52%. GM became the largest and most profitable manufacturing firm in the world.
Sloan is well known not only for such leading technological innovations as the four-wheel drive, crankcase ventilation, and knee-action brakes but also for progressive management and marketing methods such as centralized administration and decentralized production. Dozens of academics, including the illustrious management guru Peter Drucker, have written books, dissertations, and professional papers on the Sloan-imposed structure of GM.
As a philanthropist, Sloan gave away $300 million, including millions to MIT, whose business school is named after Sloan. He joined forces with his friend and GM vice president Charles F. Kettering to endow the Sloan-Kettering Foundation for the Study of Cancer in New York City. Today, this institution is a world leader in cancer research, treatment, and education.
Business historians best remember Sloan as the primary architect of the modern corporate structure. He published My Years with General Motors in 1963.
Some have an idea that the reason we in this country discard things so readily is because we have so much. The facts are exactly opposite—the reason we have so much is simply because we discard things so readily. We replace the old in return for something that will serve us better.
—Alfred P. Sloan, Jr.