The primary object of a manufacturing business is to produce, and if that objective is always kept, finance becomes a wholly secondary matter that has largely to do with bookkeeping. My own financial operations have been very simple. I started with the policy of buying and selling for cash, keeping a large fund of cash always on hand, taking full advantage of all discounts, and collecting interest on bank balances. I regard a bank principally as a place in which it is safe and convenient to keep money. The minutes we spend on a competitor’s business we lose on our own. The minutes we spend in becoming expert in finance we lose in production. The place to finance a manufacturing business is the shop, and not the bank. I would not say that a man in business needs to know nothing at all about finance, but he is better off knowing too little than too much, for if he becomes too expert he will get into the way of thinking that he can borrow money instead of earning it and then he will borrow more money to pay back what he has borrowed, and instead of being a business man he will be a note juggler, trying to keep in the air a regular flock of bonds and notes.
If he is a really expert juggler, he may keep going quite a long time in this fashion, but some day he is bound to make a miss and the whole collection will come tumbling down around him. Manufacturing is not to be confused with banking, and I think that there is a tendency for too many business men to mix up in banking and for too many bankers to mix up in business. The tendency is to distort the true purposes of both business and banking and that hurts both of them. The money has to come out of the shop, not out of the bank, and I have found that the shop will answer every possible requirement, and in one case, when it was believed that the company was rather seriously in need of funds, the shop when called on raised a larger sum than any bank in this country could loan.
We have been thrown into finance mostly in the way of denial. Some years back we had to keep standing a denial that the Ford Motor Company was owned by the Standard Oil Company and with that denial, for convenience’s sake, we coupled a denial that we were connected with any other concern or that we intended to sell cars by mail. Last year the best-liked rumour was that we were down in Wall Street hunting for money. I did not bother to deny that. It takes too much time to deny everything. Instead, we demonstrated that we did not need any money. Since then I have heard nothing more about being financed by Wall Street.
We are not against borrowing money and we are not against bankers. We are against trying to make borrowed money take the place of work. We are against the kind of banker who regards a business as a melon to be cut. The thing is to keep money and borrowing and finance generally in their proper place, and in order to do that one has to consider exactly for what the money is needed and how it is going to be paid off.
Money is only a tool in business. It is just a part of the machinery. You might as well borrow 100,000 lathes as $100,000 if the trouble is inside your business. More lathes will not cure it; neither will more money. Only heavier doses of brains and thought and wise courage can cure. A business that misuses what it has will continue to misuse what it can get. The point is – cure the misuse. When that is done, the business will begin to make its own money, just as a repaired human body begins to make sufficient pure blood.
Borrowing may easily become an excuse for not boring into the trouble. Borrowing may easily become a sop for laziness and pride. Some business men are too lazy to get into overalls and go down to see what is the matter. Or they are too proud to permit the thought that anything they have originated could go wrong. But the laws of business are like the law of gravity, and the man who opposes them feels their power.
Borrowing for expansion is one thing; borrowing to make up for mismanagement and waste is quite another. You do not want money for the latter – for the reason that money cannot do the job. Waste is corrected by economy; mismanagement is corrected by brains. Neither of these correctives has anything to do with money. Indeed, money under certain circumstances is their enemy. And many a business man thanks his stars for the pinch which showed him that his best capital was in his own brains and not in bank loans. Borrowing under certain circumstances is just like a drunkard taking another drink to cure the effect of the last one. It does not do what it is expected to do. It simply increases the difficulty. Tightening up the loose places in a business is much more profitable than any amount of new capital at 7 per cent.
The internal ailments of business are the ones that require most attention. „Business” in the sense of trading with the people is largely a matter of filling the wants of the people. If you make what they need, and sell it at a price which makes possession a help and not a hardship, then you will do business as long as there is business to do. People buy what helps them just as naturally as they drink water.
But the process of making the article will require constant care. Machinery wears out and needs to be restored. Men grow uppish, lazy, or careless. A business is men and machines united in the production of a commodity, and both the man and the machines need repairs and replacements. Sometimes it is the men „higher up” who most need revamping – and they themselves are always the last to recognize it. When a business becomes congested with bad methods; when a business becomes ill through lack of attention to one or more of its functions; when executives sit comfortably back in their chairs as if the plans they inaugurated are going to keep them going forever; when business becomes a mere plantation on which to live, and not a big work which one has to do – then you may expect trouble. You will wake up some fine morning and find yourself doing more business than you have ever done before – and getting less out of it. You find yourself short of money. You can borrow money. And you can do it, oh, so easily. People will crowd money on you. It is the most subtle temptation the young business man has. But if you do borrow money you are simply giving a stimulant to whatever may be wrong. You feed the disease. Is a man more wise with borrowed money than he is with his own? Not as a usual thing. To borrow under such conditions is to mortgage a declining property.
The time for a business man to borrow money, if ever, is when he does not need it. That is, when he does not need it as a substitute for the things he ought himself to do. If a man’s business is in excellent condition and in need of expansion, it is comparatively safe to borrow. But if a business is in need of money through mismanagement, then the thing to do is to get into the business and correct the trouble from the inside – not poultice it with loans from the outside.
My financial policy is the result of my sales policy. I hold that it is better to sell a large number of articles at a small profit than to sell a few at a large profit. This enables a larger number of people to buy and it gives a larger number of men employment at good wages. It permits the planning of production, the elimination of dull seasons, and the waste of carrying an idle plant. Thus results a suitable, continuous business, and if you will think it over, you will discover that most so-called urgent financing is made necessary because of a lack of planned, continuous business. Reducing prices is taken by the short-sighted to be the same as reducing the income of a business. It is very difficult to deal with that sort of a mind because it is so totally lacking in even the background knowledge of what business is. For instance, I was once asked, when contemplating a reduction of eighty dollars a car, whether on a production of five hundred thousand cars this would not reduce the income of the company by forty million dollars. Of course if one sold only five hundred thousand cars at the new price, the income would be reduced forty million dollars – which is an interesting mathematical calculation that has nothing whatsoever to do with business, because unless you reduce the price of an article the sales do not continuously increase and therefore the business has no stability.
If a business is not increasing, it is bound to be decreasing, and a decreasing business always needs a lot of financing. Old-time business went on the doctrine that prices should always be kept up to the highest point at which people will buy. Really modern business has to take the opposite view.
Bankers and lawyers can rarely appreciate this fact. They confuse inertia with stability. It is perfectly beyond their comprehension that the price should ever voluntarily be reduced. That is why putting the usual type of banker or lawyer into the management of a business is courting disaster. Reducing prices increases the volume and disposes of finance, provided one regards the inevitable profit as a trust fund with which to conduct more and better business. Our profit, because of the rapidity of the turnover in the business and the great volume of sales, has, no matter what the price at which the product was sold, always been large. We have had a small profit per article but a large aggregate profit. The profit is not constant. After cutting the prices, the profits for a time run low, but then the inevitable economies begin to get in their work and the profits go high again. But they are not distributed as dividends. I have always insisted on the payment of small dividends and the company has to-day no stockholders who wanted a different policy. I regard business profits above a small percentage as belonging more to the business than to the stockholders.
The stockholders, to my way of thinking, ought to be only those who are active in the business and who will regard the company as an instrument of service rather than as a machine for making money. If large profits are made – and working to serve forces them to be large – then they should be in part turned back into the business so that it may be still better fitted to serve, and in part passed on to the purchaser. During one year our profits were so much larger than we expected them to be that we voluntarily returned fifty dollars to each purchaser of a car. We felt that unwittingly we had overcharged the purchaser by that much. My price policy and hence my financial policy came up in a suit brought against the company several years ago to compel the payment of larger dividends. On the witness stand I gave the policy then in force and which is still in force. It is this:
In the first place, I hold that it is better to sell a large number of cars at a reasonably small margin than to sell fewer cars at a large margin of profit.
I hold this because it enables a large number of people to buy and enjoy the use of a car and because it gives a larger number of men employment at good wages. Those are aims I have in life. But I would not be counted a success; I would be, in fact, a flat failure if I could not accomplish that and at the same time make a fair amount of profit for myself and the men associated with me in business.
This policy I hold is good business policy because it works – because with each succeeding year we have been able to put our car within the reach of greater and greater numbers, give employment to more and more men, and, at the same time, through the volume of business, increase our own profits beyond anything we had hoped for or even dreamed of when we started.
Bear in mind, every time you reduce the price of the car without reducing the quality, you increase the possible number of purchasers. There are many men who will pay $360 for a car who would not pay $440. We had in round numbers 500,000 buyers of cars on the $440 basis, and I figure that on the $360 basis we can increase the sales to possibly 800,000 cars for the year – less profit on each car, but more cars, more employment of labour, and in the end we shall get all the total profit we ought to make.
And let me say right here, that I do not believe that we should make such an awful profit on our cars. A reasonable profit is right, but not too much. So it has been my policy to force the price of the car down as fast as production would permit, and give the benefits to users and labourers – with resulting surprisingly enormous benefits to ourselves.
This policy does not agree with the general opinion that a business is to be managed to the end that the stockholders can take out the largest possible amount of cash. Therefore I do not want stockholders in the ordinary sense of the term – they do not help forward the ability to serve. My ambition is to employ more and more men and to spread, in so far as I am able, the benefits of the industrial system that we are working to found; we want to help build lives and homes. This requires that the largest share of the profits be put back into productive enterprise. Hence we have no place for the non-working stockholders. The working stockholder is more anxious to increase his opportunity to serve than to bank dividends.
If it at any time became a question between lowering wages or abolishing dividends, I would abolish dividends. That time is not apt to come, for, as I have pointed out, there is no economy in low wages. It is bad financial policy to reduce wages because it also reduces buying power. If one believes that leadership brings responsibility, then a part of that responsibility is in seeing that those whom one leads shall have an adequate opportunity to earn a living. Finance concerns not merely the profit or solvency of a company; it also comprehends the amount of money that the company turns back to the community through wages. There is no charity in this. There is no charity in proper wages. It is simply that no company can be said to be stable which is not so well managed that it can afford a man an opportunity to do a great deal of work and therefore to earn a good wage.
There is something sacred about wages – they represent homes and families and domestic destinies. People ought to tread very carefully when approaching wages. On the cost sheet, wages are mere figures; out in the world, wages are bread boxes and coal bins, babies’ cradles and children’s education – family comforts and contentment. On the other hand, there is something just as sacred about capital which is used to provide the means by which work can be made productive. Nobody is helped if our industries are sucked dry of their life-blood. There is something just as sacred about a shop that employs thousands of men as there is about a home. The shop is the mainstay of all the finer things which the home represents. If we want the home to be happy, we must contrive to keep the shop busy. The whole justification of the profits made by the shop is that they are used to make doubly secure the homes dependent on that shop, and to create more jobs for other men. If profits go to swell a personal fortune, that is one thing; if they go to provide a sounder basis for business, better working conditions, better wages, more extended employment – that is quite another thing. Capital thus employed should not be carelessly tampered with. It is for the service of all, though it may be under the direction of one.
Profits belong in three places: they belong to the business – to keep it steady, progressive, and sound. They belong to the men who helped produce them. And they belong also, in part, to the public. A successful business is profitable to all three of these interests – planner, producer, and purchaser.
People whose profits are excessive when measured by any sound standard should be the first to cut prices. But they never are. They pass all their extra costs down the line until the whole burden is borne by the consumer; and besides doing that, they charge the consumer a percentage on the increased charges. Their whole business philosophy is: „Get while the getting is good.” They are the speculators, the exploiters, the no-good element that is always injuring legitimate business. There is nothing to be expected from them. They have no vision. They cannot see beyond their own cash registers.
These people can talk more easily about a 10 or 20 per cent. cut in wages than they can about a 10 or 20 per cent. cut in profits. But a business man, surveying the whole community in all its interests and wishing to serve that community, ought to be able to make his contribution to stability.
It has been our policy always to keep on hand a large amount of cash – the cash balance in recent years has usually been in excess of fifty million dollars. This is deposited in banks all over the country, we do not borrow but we have established lines of credit, so that if we so cared we might raise a very large amount of money by bank borrowing. But keeping the cash reserve makes borrowing unnecessary – our provision is only to be prepared to meet an emergency. I have no prejudice against proper borrowing. It is merely that I do not want to run the danger of having the control of the business and hence the particular idea of service to which I am devoted taken into other hands.
A considerable part of finance is in the overcoming of seasonal operation. The flow of money ought to be nearly continuous. One must work steadily in order to work profitably. Shutting down involves great waste. It brings the waste of unemployment of men, the waste of unemployment of equipment, and the waste of restricted future sales through the higher prices of interrupted production. That has been one of the problems we had to meet. We could not manufacture cars to stock during the winter months when purchases are less than in spring or summer. Where or how could any one store half a million cars? And if stored, how could they be shipped in the rush season? And who would find the money to carry such a stock of cars even if they could be stored?
Seasonal work is hard on the working force. Good mechanics will not accept jobs that are good for only part of the year. To work in full force twelve months of the year guarantees workmen of ability, builds up a permanent manufacturing organization, and continually improves the product – the men in the factory, through uninterrupted service, become more familiar with the operations.
The factory must build, the sales department must sell, and the dealer must buy cars all the year through, if each would enjoy the maximum profit to be derived from the business. If the retail buyer will not consider purchasing except in „seasons,” a campaign of education needs to be waged, proving the all-the-year-around value of a car rather than the limited-season value. And while the educating is being done, the manufacturer must build, and the dealer must buy, in anticipation of business.
We were the first to meet the problem in the automobile business. The selling of Ford cars is a merchandising proposition. In the days when every car was built to order and 50 cars a month a big output, it was reasonable to wait for the sale before ordering. The manufacturer waited for the order before building.
We very shortly found that we could not do business on order. The factory could not be built large enough – even were it desirable – to make between March and August all the cars that were ordered during those months. Therefore, years ago began the campaign of education to demonstrate that a Ford was not a summer luxury but a year-round necessity. Coupled with that came the education of the dealer into the knowledge that even if he could not sell so many cars in winter as in summer it would pay him to stock in winter for the summer and thus be able to make instant delivery. Both plans have worked out; in most parts of the country cars are used almost as much in winter as in summer. It has been found that they will run in snow, ice, or mud – in anything. Hence the winter sales are constantly growing larger and the seasonal demand is in part lifted from the dealer. And he finds it profitable to buy ahead in anticipation of needs. Thus we have no seasons in the plant; the production, up until the last couple of years, has been continuous excepting for the annual shut downs for inventory. We have had an interruption during the period of extreme depression but it was an interruption made necessary in the process of readjusting ourselves to the market conditions.
In order to attain continuous production and hence a continuous turning over of money we have had to plan our operations with extreme care. The plan of production is worked out very carefully each month between the sales and production departments, with the object of producing enough cars so that those in transit will take care of the orders in hand. Formerly, when we assembled and shipped cars, this was of the highest importance because we had no place in which to store finished cars. Now we ship parts instead of cars and assemble only those required for the Detroit district. That makes the planning no less important, for if the production stream and the order stream are not approximately equal we should be either jammed with unsold parts or behind in our orders. When you are turning out the parts to make 4,000 cars a day, just a very little carelessness in overestimating orders will pile up a finished inventory running into the millions. That makes the balancing of operations an exceedingly delicate matter.
In order to earn the proper profit on our narrow margin we must have a rapid turnover. We make cars to sell, not to store, and a month’s unsold production would turn into a sum the interest on which alone would be enormous. The production is planned a year ahead and the number of cars to be made in each month of the year is scheduled, for of course it is a big problem to have the raw materials and such parts as we still buy from the outside flowing in consonance with production. We can no more afford to carry large stocks of finished than we can of raw material. Everything has to move in and move out. And we have had some narrow escapes. Some years ago the plant of the Diamond Manufacturing Company burned down. They were making radiator parts for us and the brass parts – tubings and castings. We had to move quickly or take a big loss. We got together the heads of all our departments, the pattern-makers and the draughtsmen. They worked from twenty-four to forty-eight hours on a stretch. They made new patterns; the Diamond Company leased a plant and got some machinery in by express. We furnished the other equipment for them and in twenty days they were shipping again. We had enough stock on hand to carry us over, say, for seven or eight days, but that fire prevented us shipping cars for ten or fifteen days. Except for our having stock ahead it would have held us up for twenty days – and our expenses would have gone right on.
To repeat. The place in which to finance is the shop. It has never failed us, and once, when it was thought that we were hard up for money, it served rather conclusively to demonstrate how much better finance can be conducted from the inside than from the outside.