I've been on a mission for several years to right the wrong done to Charles Erwin Wilson, the president of General Motors from 1941 to 1953. He later served as Defense Secretary under President Eisenhower, a man with a keen interest in the well-being of the military. You know Engine Charlie: He's the one who said, "What's good for General Motors is good for America." The very epitome of the selfish, imperious chief executive. Except he didn't actually say it. His real words were, "for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa." In other words, the interests of big business couldn't be divorced from the well-being of the nation. This represented the best ethos of our business leadership when America stood at its zenith.
James Cash Penney, founder of the department store chain, operated not by exotic swindles cooked up by his Ivy League MBAs, but by the golden rule. The vinegary head of National Cash Register, John Henry Patterson, turned his factories into boat-building plants to save residents of Dayton during the 1913 great flood. Henry Ford, crackpot and anti-Semite though he became, established his business on this foundation: "I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one." In doing so, especially paying good salaries, he made one of the seminal steps to create the modern middle class. Ford also said, "A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large."
Now we have a different breed of cat running our largest companies. Their model is not J.C. Penney or even Henry Ford, but Jack Welch and the moguls of Wal-Mart. And they may be on a mission to sabotage the chief executive of the United States. more