Alfred P. Sloan
Alfred Pritchard Sloan, Jr. (/s l oʊ n / ; May 23, 1875 – February 17, 1966) was an American business executive in the automotive industry. He was a long-time President, chairman, and CEO of General Motors Corporation. Sloan, first as a senior executive and later as the head of the organization, helped GM grow from the 1920s through the 1950s, decades when concepts such as the annual model change, brand architecture, industrial design, automotive design (styling), and planned obsolescence transformed the industry, and when the industry changed lifestyles and the built environment in America and throughout the world.
In the United States, automotive design reached a turning point in 1942 when the American national automobile market began reaching saturation. To maintain unit sales, General Motors head Alfred P. Sloan Jr. suggested annual model-year design changes to convince car owners that they needed to buy a new replacement each year, an idea borrowed from the bicycle industry (though Sloan usually gets the credit, or blame).
Critics called his strategy planned obsolescence. Sloan preferred the term "dynamic obsolescence". This strategy had far-reaching effects on the auto business, the field of product design, and eventually the American economy.
Sloan's memoir, My Years with General Motors, written in the 1950s but withheld from publication until an updated version was finally released in 1964, exemplified Sloan's vision of the professional manager and the carefully engineered corporate structure in which he worked. It is considered one of the seminal texts in the field of modern management education, although the state of the art in management science has grown greatly in the half century since.
Sloan is remembered for being a rational, shrewd, and very successful manager, who led GM to become the world's largest corporation, a position it held for many years after his death. His rationality and shrewdness are also remembered by his critics as extending even to cold, plutocratic detachment or avarice. However, the magnitude of Sloan's philanthropy suggests that he saw himself differently: as a man with greater talents and greater responsibilities than others, who was thus entitled to great authority but also obligated to, and committed to, beneficence.
Sloan and the management of GM in the 1930s and early 1940s – the time of the Great Depression, German re-armament, fascism, appeasement, and World War II – are part of a larger narrative about the complex nature of multinational corporations and how nationality of their members was irrelevant in some ways but relevant in others.
The national governments on both sides of the Allied–Axis divide used the industrial capacity of GM – the Allies using Detroit and Vauxhall, the Axis using Adam Opel AG, GM's German subsidiary – to churn out materiel for their war efforts.