Alfred Sloan joined General Motors as a director and vice-president in 1918 and became president and chief executive officer in 1923, and Chairman in 1937. From 1956 until his death in 1966 he was honorary Chairman of the corporation. During his period as chairman he was the highest paid business executive and ran the largest business in the world.
It was in 1963 that he published his famous book My years with General Motors. This set out in detail how General Motors developed over the decades covered by his administration and was a complete and thorough analysis of the forces impacting on General Motors, the outcomes they achieved and the thinking behind their many ground-breaking innovations.
Sloan’s unique contribution to organisational development was the decentralised divisional structure and the use of financial controls.
Decentralisation led to the formation of autonomous vehicle divisions (Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, GM Truck) which persist to the present day. The challenge then as now was to find a balance between centralised and decentralised management authority and responsibility. The compromise sought by General Motors was to give the divisions wide ranging powers but to maintain central oversight by use of co-ordinating committees. It has been argued that this committee system was partly responsible for General Motors early failures to respond effectively to the growing Japanese threat.