"Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants," Henry Ford famously announced, "so long as it is black." The founder of the Ford Motor Company’s straightforward, no-frills attitude led to the industrialization of the 20th century, the popularization of the automobile, and an enduring business philosophy that continues to resonate with companies and entrepreneurs today.
The debut of the Model T in 1908 preceded both World Wars and the Great Depression. However, its influence on American business and industry, as well as Henry Ford’s vision and leadership, would prove to have a major impact on these crises — and the country’s path out of them.
"The great need of the world has always been for leaders. With more leaders we could have more industry. More industry, more employment and comfort for all." - Fred C. Kelly interview, Barron’s, 1931
“The short successes that can be gained in a brief time and without difficulty, are not worth much.” - Ford News, 1922
“I take them as concrete evidence of the working out of a theory of business, which I hope is something more than a theory of business — a theory that looks toward making this world a better place in which to live. The fact that the commercial success of the Ford Motor Company has been most unusual is important only because it serves to demonstrate, in a way which no one can fail to understand, that the theory to date is right.” - My Life and Work
“When you find a real leader who bears a title, you will have to inquire of someone else what his title is. He doesn't boast about it.” - My Life and Work
“Profits belong in three places: they belong to the business — to keep it steady, progressive, and sound. They belong to the men who helped produce them. And they belong also, in part, to the public. A successful business is profitable to all three of these interests — planner, producer, and purchaser.” - My Life and Work
Always one for healthy economic competition, Henry Ford wanted his automobiles to be the best in the industry. He strongly advised against competition for competition’s sake, however — especially when it resulted in social inequity.
“Whoever does a thing best ought to be the one to do it. It is criminal to try to get business away from another man — criminal because one is then trying to lower for personal gain the condition of one's fellow-men, to rule by force instead of by intelligence.” - My Life and Work
"The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all but goes on making his own business better all the time." - Ford News, 1923
"Competition whose motive is merely to compete, to drive some other fellow out, never carries very far." - Ford News, 1923
“You can hardly have too much harmony in business. But you can go too far in picking men because they harmonize. You can have so much harmony that there will not be enough of the thrust and counterthrust which is life — enough of the competition which means effort and progress.” - My Life and Work
“Destructive competition benefits no one. The kind of competition which results in the defeat of the many and the overlordship of the ruthless few must go. Destructive competition lacks the qualities out of which progress comes. Progress comes from a generous form of rivalry. Bad competition is personal.” - My Life and Work
Today’s automation and technological advances trace directly back to Henry Ford’s concept of progress. He believed in the influence of the past, but only in spirit, as one cannot move forward with ideas from yesterday.
“If today has no meaning, the past was a Blank and the future is a Chaos." - Ford News, 1923
“Man minus the Machine is a slave; Man plus the Machine is a freeman." - Ford News, 1925
"The remains of the old must be decently laid away; the path of the new prepared. That is the difference between Revolution and Progress." - Ford News, 1922
“Man is a comparative being. Substandard things must go before super-standard things can come." - Ford News, 1925
“Failure is only the opportunity more intelligently to begin again. There is no disgrace in honest failure; there is disgrace in fearing to fail. What is past is useful only as it suggests ways and means for progress.” - My Life and Work
Henry Ford was a giant in the field of innovation, but he was not the first — or the last — to contribute to the technological revolution of the 20th century. For more inspiration from brilliant minds, check out: