March 22, 2002

Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects - A Ghost's Memoir

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 9:57 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

A Ghosts Memoir: The Making of Alfred P. Sloans My Years with General Motors; by John MacDonald, MIT Press; 147 pages; $24.95, Hardcover, May 2002, ISBN 0262134101
I have struggled with my decision to include A Ghosts Memoir on this months list. Dont misunderstand me. It has all the merits of a great business book: not only did the publisher create a striking cover, an informative dust jacket, and notable quotes, but the content is timely, well-written, easy-to-understand, and, well, interesting. So why the struggle? Well, this is a book about a business book, or perhaps more accurately, it is a story about the writing of a business book. Is this biography? History? Can this book provide you, the reader, with real applicable value to add to your business knowledge pantry? The dust jacket suggests that we can satisfy this question by seeing this as a strategy book. Strategy as a part of Sloans story, as a part of GMs attempt to suppress the publication of the book, and strategy via McDonalds fight against the massive corporation that is GM. But ultimately, I suppose it doesnt matter. A good book is a good book, and this is one very good book.
First, a little background. In 1964, the autobiographical business book, -- one of the most influential of all time--, My Years with General Motors, by Alfred Sloan, and ghostwritten by John McDonald, was published. Despite its basis in autobiography, My Years became a best-selling management book that is still read with interest today. So, why did John McDonald write a book about the creation of My Years? Well, because it almost didnt make it to the shelves and the public was almost denied its insight. Following one of the most volatile times among the leading car manufacturing companies, General Motors had surpassed its market rivals and was being investigated as a potential monopoly due to its incestuous relationship with DuPont. Because the US Government was investigating GM, the companys powers-that-be (of which Sloan was really no longer one of) tried to suppress it fearing that some of the material could be used in an antitrust action against the company. So, what we end up with is a fascinating story of MacDonald and Sloans partnership in writing the original text, as well as MacDonalds struggle, in the face of having lost almost 5 years of his professional life (and compensation) to the writing of this book, to get the book published after Sloan bends to the will of GM and McDonald is forced to file suit against GM to get the book published. Ultimately, GMs problem with the initial draft of My Years lay in the chapter about Sloans Product Policy of 1921 which includes such incriminating statements as: A monopoly is not planned. and describes GMs intent to start covering the market in price classes thus driving out the competitors. After some revision on both parties, the book is published in 64 (as opposed to its intended publishing date of 59) by Doubleday.
A Ghosts Memoir is an entertaining read that really sets you in the 1960s and engrosses you in its details and tension. While it is not quite time for a beach read, this is one you can pick up on the weekend, read in a few hours, and not only feel like youve utilized your time well reading a quality bizbook, but also that you have been relaxed by a good story.