What I learned from reading Master of Precision: Henry Leland by Ottilie Leland and Minnie Dubbs Millbrook.
Come see a live show with me and Patrick O'Shaughnessy from Invest Like The Best on October 19th in New York City.
Subscribe to listen to Founders Premium — Subscribers can listen to Ask Me Anything (AMA) episodes and every bonus episode.
[0:17] Henry Leland laid the foundation for the future of American industry. He had established manufacturing procedures never previously so effectively employed and took a position of leadership. In the next decades would be comparable in statute with, although quite different from, William Durant, Henry Ford and Alfred Sloan.
[0:40] It should be pointed out that Leland's contribution to the development of the motor car was the establishment of high standards of manufacturing.
[2:33] Henry Leland always got deep satisfaction out of anything which was made right. He had—in high degree—the pride of craftsmanship that had marked the master workman down the centuries.
[3:07] He developed the Cadillac, the self-starter, The Lincoln car, held up high standards of performance for the industry, and established the first notable school of automotive mechanics.
[4:05] A lesson Henry Leland learned from his Father: He bequeathed a singularly trustful disposition to his son, who could never believe that other men were not inherently as good and honorable as he himself. He was several times to pay a stiff penalty for this faith in human nature.
[4:56] A lesson Henry Leland learned from his Mother: “There is a right way and a wrong way to do everything. Hunt for the right way and then go ahead.” This simple admonition was to become a creed that would govern all of his actions as he rose in industry.
[6:10] He lives through the beginning of two industries in his life: Manufacturing in general and the automobile industry in specific.
[7:24] Henry Leland was not sure he wanted to become an apprentice machinist. The hours were long—10 hour days, 6 days a week—and most factories did not pay high wages. Moreover, farming was still the traditional American operation, which offered a possibility of independence and did not shut a man indoors with noisy machinery.
[9:06] Henry was already discovering the education that could be mined from books. At first, the fond of reading, he had been attracted by cheap adventure novels, which he borrowed from the local library. One night a stranger there, seeing what he was taking out exclaimed, “Surely don't read that trash!” Henry replied, “What better use can I make of my time than to read?” The stranger answered, “It makes a lot of difference what you read,” and then suggested some better books. The episode was a revelation to young Leland and he was soon reading volumes that acquainted him with American genius in literature, government and invention.
[9:55] Abraham Lincoln was his idol. Lincoln Motor Company—which Henry founds when he is in his 70s— is named after Abraham Lincoln. If we want to continue the conversation that Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison were having [about who is history’s greatest person] in The Billionaire and The Mechanic—Jobs said Gandhi. Ellison said Napoleon. Leland’s answer would be Abraham Lincoln.
[12:05] Even if he experienced a financial penalty, Henry Leland wanted to do the honorable thing.
[12:44] Henry wanted to work where he could render the greatest service to his country [during The Civil War]. He had learned that the U.S. Armory needed expert mechanics, and he had determined to help with war production. The particular lesson he learned in the Armory was the value of order and neatness in a work shop. Everything was clean and systematic, a state of affairs not common in early factories.
[14:37] Precision was his god. His personal work was outstanding.
[14:56] The discipline and subordination of factory life ran counter to American individualism.
[16:31] A nervous breakdown drove him from the shop to the far for rest.
[16:48] His mind, independent and teaming with ideas, made it difficult for him to work with others. He longed for a business in which he might put his theories to work but he had no money, a family to support, and his father and mother were in need of aid.
[20:00] The manufacture of the hair clippers [which he invented and brought to market against the opposition of his bosses] was spirited and rose to an output as much as 300 daily. For this I received a ‘Thank you’ and 50 cents a day more in my pay envelope. That was on of the times I thought I ought to quit making other men rich and go to work for myself.
[20:41] Henry Leland was good at sales by not trying to be good at sales. He wanted to educate people. He was gifted at selling because he gave the customer useful advice.
[22:26] As usual there was little money left over for saving. And yet Henry Leland was more hopeful of going into business for himself than ever before. He had brought his skill and experience to the service of the ambitious industrialists of the west and they had shown him in return the financial method that had put them in business. Each had organized a company by selling stock. “Eureka,” said Henry Leland to himself, “I have found it,” for he had great experience and he was sure he could raise a little money. His dream of an independent business might come true after all.
[23:40] Henry Leland had a lifetime of experience before he starts his first company. He was 47 years old. He had been working in factories since he was a teenager.
[25:03] Leland was a missionary for precision. He held people to high standards.
[26:07] Horace Dodge trained directly under Leland for two years before starting a machine shop of his own.
[27:45] The building up of a business, which expands rapidly and must be financed primarily from its own earnings, is often a discouraging process.
[27:56] How Henry Leland advertised the services of his foundry: We appeal for business only to those who want the best. We do not attempt to compete with the average foundry on price. We believe no other foundry can successfully compete with us on quality.
[29:57] “There always was and there always will be conflict between Good and Good Enough. In opening up a new business one can count on meeting resistance to a high standard of workmanship. It is easy to get cooperation for mediocre work, but one must sweat blood for a chance to produce a superior product.” —Henry Leland
[35:10] Henry Leland founds Cadillac when he is almost 60 years old: Henry Leland now embarked on the great adventure of his life; he would play an important role in the organization of Detroit’s first successful automobile company.
[35:27] Cadillac was making $2 million per year in profit when Billy Durant buys Cadillac for $4.5 million.
[37:21] Other men had built cars for many reasons—for the fascination of creation, for the profits in it—but Henry Leland agreed to build a car because he did not want to see a pet engine unappreciated and unused.
[38:53] Henry Leland was an expert in a field where experts were still uncommon.
[41:13] We buy the best parts we can find. I have always contended price should be considered last by a manufacturer in selecting materials for his product.
[45:10] His theory was that the one essential ingredient of success was mastery of one’s self as well as one’s job.
[47:57] A story: If you do the right thing people will remember.
[52:10] Henry Leland is 77 years old when he starts Lincoln Motor Company
[54:21] Henry Leland did not believe in quitting: It was manifestly impossible for the Lelands, men of tender heart and unswerving integrity, to take a cold, dispassionate view of the financial straits of the Lincoln Company. Many automobile companies had had money troubles; some had undergone a variety of reorganizations, combinations and other stratagems to keep alive and their directors and management had not been considered dishonest or insensible of their trust even though investors may have lost a portion or all of their equity. But such a course was unthinkable for the Lelands; as long as there was breath in their bodies they would oppose it. They had invested everything they owned in the company.
[1:01:05] Henry Ford and Henry Leland were like oil and water: We see a difference in management culture. Leland led from the front. Ford beat you down from above.
[1:02:27] How Ford management described the Lincoln organization: The whole organization is unusually harmonious and uniformly competent.
[1:05:40] A letter from Henry Leland to Henry Ford: I cannot but feel certain that you intended to keep those pledges when you made them to me personally and, while I cannot understand the long delay on your part, I still hope and trust that you will not shake my life long faith in humanity.
“I have listened to every episode released and look forward to every episode that comes out. The only criticism I would have is that after each podcast I usually want to buy the book because I am interested, so my poor wallet suffers.”— Gareth
Be like Gareth. Buy a book. It's good for you. It's good for Founders. A list of all the books featured on Founders Podcast.