Thomas Clark Durant of General Motors

Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac. What do they have in common? They are but a few of the various brands of 'General Motors'. A company founded on this very day, 108 years ago. But, on 16 September 1908, when GM was
founded under the leadership of William Durant, no one could foresee the behemoth it would soon grow into. Or, of the ups and downs the automobile industry, and the company, would go though. And, specifically, what
William Durant himself would go through.

On the company's anniversary therefore, I thought, in this column, I would dwell of this amazing personality, to whose life, I first got introduced to, some 25 years ago, in my business management class by 

an enthusiastic professor. Though he started off selling cigars, William Durant had become a millionaire running a successful horse-carriage company in 1902 in Flint, Michigan, USA.

Apparently, he disapproved of automobiles and said they "were noisy, dangerous contraptions that disturbed tranquillity and frightened horses."

According to his biographer, Durant had once angrily scolded his daughter for taking a ride in an automobile without his knowledge. However, within 6 years he realized that automobiles are here to stay. His Flint Road 

Cart Co. — which he later renamed Durant-Dort Carriage Co. after borrowing 2000 dollars from a bank, with friend Josiah Dallas Dort as partner - was doing well, selling horse carriages with an innovative suspension system.

But then, when a rival company Flint Wagon Works acquired a debt-ridden Buick Motor Co., which had started building engines in 1903 and branched into automobiles, opportunity knocked. He quickly opened the door, and agreed 

to manage that company. And very quickly, he negotiated relief from Buick's creditors and moved vehicle assembly from a one-storey building in Flint, to a more spacious site in Jackson, Michigan. Call it intrepidity or
gumption. But, in January 1905 he went to an auto show in New York and took orders for 1108 vehicles, when the factory had, until then, produced only 37!

In 1908 then, GM Holding Corporation was incorporated by consolidating several motorcar companies producing Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Oakland (later Pontiac), Ewing, Marquette, and other autos, as well as 

Reliance and Rapid trucks. So outrageous were Durant's ambitions that in its first two years, GM had cobbled together some 30 companies! They included 11 automakers, many supplier firms and one electric company.

The rival Ford Company, with its Ford Model T, was following the new assembly line system and was insisting on a one colour, one design, and low priced car. But William Durant took huge risks; giving customers 

multiple and varied options. The strain of overheads on the fledgling GM Company became so high that the corporation's board had to force the spendthrift Durant to quit!

But with great grit and gumption, he started a new company Chevrolet, with Louis Chevrolet, and bought stake in GM and regained control of GM!

Post World War I, he was once again forced out of GM. But he started Durant Motors. As Wall Street's big players in the late 1920s, he tried to almost single-handedly restore market confidence after the 1929 

crash. But failed, losing his third, and last, fortune. He lived the rest of his life on a GM pension arranged by Alfred Sloan and gifts from Walter P. Chrysler. And sadly, the man who first made the world's biggest
automobile company was, in his last days, flipping hamburgers and running a small bowling alley.