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The Deal Maker: How William C.Durrant Made General Motors [Hardcover]

Axel Madsen

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Book Description

15 Sep 1999
The roller–coaster life of the flamboyant creator of General Motors

William C. Durant did big things the big way: he overreached, but, until his final failure, he picked up the pieces time after time to confound his competitors. From a turbulent childhood in the small town of Flint, Michigan, to his phenomenal success in creating General Motors, Durant′s meteoric career easily rivals the success stories of modern legends like Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch, and Bill Gates. With his trademark smile and personal charisma, Durant assembled General Motors in a few short years, buying companies at the rate of one every thirty days. Durant′s deal–making artistry even tempted Henry Ford, and had Durant upped his acquisition price Ford would be a division of GM today.

Durant′s story illuminates the conflict between innovation and control of innovation –of the uneasy alliances struck again and again between inventors and their sources of capital. His years of heady success building General Motors were marked by epic struggles with bankers. But he depended on only a few sources of big money to finance his exploding business, and pitted himself against forces he underestimated or refused to consider. Gambling on a run on GM stock, he was finally forced into a buyout that ousted him from his role in the GM empire.

Into the dramatic tale of this early twentieth–century mogul come the fascinating automotive pioneers –Henry Ford, David Buick, Charles Nash, Albert Champion, Louis Chevrolet, and Alfred P. Sloan. On Wall Street, J. P. Morgan turned down Durant′s request for a loan while Pierre du Pont invested in Durant′s expansion. Tracing the fortunes of a man and his era, The Deal Maker is a fast–paced, rousing tale of Durant′s dizzying success and ultimate failure.

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More About the Author

Axel Madsen (born May 27, 1930) was a Danish-American biographer and journalist. Born in Copenhagen and raised in Paris, Madsen turned from music to writing in the early 1950s, initially for the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune. In 1956 he moved to Canada and began working for United Press International. He moved to Hollywood in the early 1960s.

Biographies included Billy Wilder, Barbara Stanwyck, Coco Chanel, John Jacob Astor, Jacques Cousteau, Yves St. Laurent, André Malraux, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, William C. Durant, William Wyler, and John Huston.

He died of cancer in Los Angeles in 2007.

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Amazon Review

Long before Ted Turner and Steve Case, a flamboyant dreamer named William Crapo Durant was assembling innovative corporate empires that would rival any. After growing a Flint, Michigan, carriage-maker into one of the biggest players in a booming industry, Durant got caught up in the automotive frenzy sweeping the world and in 1908 established General Motors by acquiring a stable of existing carmakers (including Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Pontiac) as well as parts companies and manufacturing plants. In The Deal Maker, experienced biographer Axel Madsen goes behind the scenes to also detail the financial setbacks that soon cost Durant control of GM, the partnership with Louis Chevrolet that led to formation of the Chevrolet Motor Car Company, his triumphant reestablishment at the top of GM (and second embarrassing fall from power), the formation and failure of his alternative automaker Durant Motor, and, finally, the enormous stock market victories he enjoyed before his complete financial destruction in the 1929 crash. The Durant that Madsen reveals is a business visionary truly worth getting to know, the "Great Gatsby of carmaking" who understood the big picture but lacked the personal patience and managerial skills necessary for long-term success. --Howard Rothman, Amazon.com


- "..a highly readable biography of the colourful founder of General Motors." -- Financial Times, 25TH October 1999

- "is especially compelling. And it's an excellent reminder to investors that when a long and brilliant history tempts them to pay a high price for a share, an outbreak of stupidity could be just around the corner." -- Investor's Chronicle, 3rd December 1999

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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TWO hundred former associates and persons prominent in the industry gathered at the Episcopal Calvary Church on Manhattan's Park Avenue South and Twenty-first Street. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Deal Maker By Axel Madsen 17 Mar 2003
By Lance Haynes - Published on Amazon.com
This is another good book on my hero Mr. William C. Durant the creator of GM. Mr. Durant defiantly affected the early automobile history more than any other one man ever. He was the worlds largest cart maker back in Flint Mi. & went on to save Buick from certain bankruptcy. Also creating GM with Buick as the cornerstone car & then adding Olds, Cadillac & Oakland (the forerunner to Pontiac) & many others that didn't pan out. He also started Chevrolet with his famous Buick race car driver Louis Chevrolet. Some other good reads are The Dream Maker 1979 by Bernard Weisberger and Billy Durant by Lawrence Gustin 1973. ... Sincerely Lance Haynes President Durant Motors Automobile Club
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An inspiration of determination 4 Feb 2002
By info@funforbusiness. - Published on Amazon.com
It's a story of a vibrant, fast acting dreamer named William Durant who had his start making horse carriages in Flint, Michigan with his partner Dort. He being the salesman, then pre-sold orders for their carriages at a fair, contracted the work out, then worked in a frenzy to fulfill all those orders. It wasn't long until those working on the carriages understood what Durant and Dort were doing, and wanted their own piece of the pie. With a little luck, they managed to survive intense start up competition the first few fragile years, then, in 1908, Durant alone established General Motors through the strategic acquisition (and even more luck) of several existing auto manufacturers (including Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac). He also actively pursued vertical and horizontal integration into the manufacturing process by acquiring rubber plantations, etc. at the closest level to the source. It's fascinating to listen to the "who" behind the names of today's leading auto lines (ie. Louie "Chevrolet" - was a race car driver), etc. and to imagine that Henry Ford and William Durant considered a viable merger that would have completely changed history! From a financial standpoint now, it's easy to see Durant's forecast for financial ruin. It was his tremendous speed and passion which he acted, but often lacked methodical planning or prudence. His pursuit of being "big" and acquiring at least one new company every month, led to a repeated pattern of over-extension and debt feeding his ego; which eventually ruined him, not once, but three times. He then became involved with Dupont, Morgan and the other "high powered" names of history in an effort to re-build his own auto "empire" with a different name - each failed. Each time, his persistence kept him going - and that's truly admirable. He never gave up after each failure! It's inspiring to read (or listen to if you get lucky and find an audio version.)
5.0 out of 5 stars The Hero of Flint Rides Again! 31 Dec 2009
By Dennis Mcauley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
First class narrative about the guy who changed history and gave Sloan the chance to rationalize his existence. Well-written and concise. More human than Willie and Alfred. Good reading if you like the captains of industry.....er Wall Street!
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Book 13 July 2009
By R. Gessel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Fascinating book not only about William Durant, but also about the birth of the auto industry in the United States. I highly recommend this book.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Flint was built on capitalism 28 Sep 2009
By Page W. Brousseau - Published on Amazon.com
I was born, grew up and lived in Flint, MI. To say Michael Moore is wrong would be less than truthful. He's right, Flint isn't a pretty place, it wasn't GM's faught they left. GM built this town, they owe it nothing. It doesn't take more than 15 mins of driving or looking at crime stats to see that it's not GM causing Flint's current problems.

This book not only illustrated the life of William C. Durant and the creation of GM, but also the rise of Flint from a lumber town of a couple thousand to a leading industrial town of many tens of thousands. The story of Durant is littered with names people living in Flint would recognize, Sloan, Dort, Kettering, AC, Whiting, Whaley, Chevrolet, Dodge, Chrysler, Ford and the list goes on.

Durant was a 100% capitalist, almost the kind you would see as a bad character in a movie. He wasn't ruthless with his workers, just his competition. Instead of beating them head to head he would buy them out, those that didn't sell faced a shrinking market with increased difficulty buying goods. Ford became his strongest competitor, however, Ford stuck with the Model T which he said, "They can have any color they want, as long as it's black." Meanwhile GM threw every new innovation on every new product line. Causing Ford to retire the less loved T after 10,000,000 sold.

Durant at one point was one of the richest men in America lost his GM to the DuPont family. He started Durant motors and invested heavily into the stock market. As fellow heavy investor, Joe P. Kennedy had the common sense to get out in summer 1929, Durant stayed in, pumping million after million in to sure up his stocks (which had worked before) only to see his assets whipped out and him left in bankruptcy.

The great man he was he didn't flinch when his estate on the Jersey shore was sold off, he went back to Flint and built bowling alleys. Durant signed off on the first marketable fridge, the Frigidaire. The self starter, inflated tires, enclosed chassis and that list goes on.

Durant put Flint on the map by following the money, being a torn in the eye of Henry Ford, the DuPont brothers, and Wall Street, men as such don't come around often, but when they do, they need to be remembered.
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