- General Motors (NYSE:) is 110 years old.
- Founded in 1908, GM rose to dominate the US auto industry.
- But it declined in the 1980s and 1990s, and in 2009 it was bailed out and went bankrupt.
- By 2019, however, the definitive American corporation had recovered.
The story of General Motors is one of rising, falling — and rising again.
Born from the wild early days of the Detroit car business, “The General” made it through the Great Depression and rose to become the model of an American corporation. At one point in the 1950s, one of every two cars sold the in US carried a GM brand name.
GM’s decline wasn’t swift. From the 1970s through the 2010s, it remained a force in business, not just in the US, but worldwide.
But the changing global auto industry took its toll, and by 2009, when the financial crisis hit, GM hit a wall. The company had to be bailed out by the US government before entering bankruptcy.
A changed company emerged — leaner and more agile, determine to never again collapse under its own weight. Since its 2010 IPO, GM has been steadily profitable. And under CEO Mary Barra, the first woman to lead a major automaker, GM has invested in a future of electric cars and self-driving vehicles.
Here’s how GM rose, fell, and rose anew.
William C. Durant founded General Motors in 1980 alongside Charles Stewart Mott and Frederic L. Smith. He was later pushed out of the firm, but then he started Chevrolet and returned when GM acquired the brand in 1916. He was out again by the early 1920s and was financially ruined by the Great Depression.
Durant’s great rival was Henry Ford. While Durant sought to create a holding company offering numerous brands to serve different customer preferences, Ford concentrated on building one car that would appeal to everybody.
Durant’s effective successor was Alfred P. Sloan, an early example of an “acqui-hire.” GM bought his company and Sloan became GM’s president in 1923. He built it into the model of the modern American corporation and then retired in 1956, when GM controlled half the US auto market.
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