From the CEO Featured

10:00am EDT July 22, 2002

The term revolutionary is defined as “someone engaged in the act of revolt.” It carries connotations of extremist or radical behavior. Even in the most conservative light, the thought of revolting against the ideas and norms of our peers and society makes most people uncomfortable.

But as history has proven, if we want to reach the pinnacle of success, we need to be a willing revolutionary. The ability to revolt against limitations set before us is the mountain true leaders must climb.

The year was 1863, Abraham Lincoln was president of the North and only two out of eight Americans lived in cities. Jefferson Davis was president of the 11 states of the Confederacy. During this time, a child was born in Dearborn, Mich., who would transform America from an agricultural to an industrial powerhouse. He worked with his father on the farm and attended a one-room schoolhouse. At 16, he left home for nearby Detroit to find work in a machine shop. There, he came in contact with an internal combustion engine. Young Henry Ford began to dream and think revolutionary thoughts.

Ford was determined to build a gasoline-powered vehicle. In 1893, he built his first gasoline-powered engine. Three years later, he made his first horseless carriage, known as the “Quadricycle.”

He exhausted his early investors, who saw the horseless carriage as a vehicle for the wealthy, because he insisted on providing quality at an affordable price. He left the company later known as Cadillac Motors, and built a new company, Ford Motor Co. When he introduced the Model T, he promised, “I will build a motor car for the great multitude.” His goal was revolutionary, and forced him to look for solutions.

In management, we hear such terms as “on-time delivery” and think of them as recent innovations in manufacturing. A study of the early Ford Motor Co. shows Ford designed an “on-time” assembly system that allowed his company to manufacture a chassis eight times faster than the competition. By dividing labors and coordinating operations in his manufacturing, he accomplished huge gains in productivity.

Ford was also a revolutionary in worker relations. While most employers paid employees the lowest wage possible, Ford viewed his employees as potential customer and paid them twice the going rate: $5 per day instead of the $2.34 rate for the industry. He also instituted a profit sharing plan that distributed up to $30 million annually to his employees. His employees now had the money to buy the cars they were building.

Overnight, Ford became a worldwide celebrity. By combining precision manufacturing with a continuously moving assembly line, Ford Motor Co. could produce a car every 24 seconds. And the Model T, which sold for $950 in 1908, could be purchased for $290 in 1927. More than 15 million cars were sold before the Model T was discontinued in 1928.

Today, a similar revolution is transforming the U.S. from an industrial/service economy to an information economy. Ford’s success was not an accident but a predetermined path which he chose. He sought to reach a market that no one else could see and found a way to help the market afford the product.

Revolutionary thinking is what transforms society and the world. But this form of thinking usually involves leaving our comfort zone. Those who refuse to be revolutionary in their thinking end up becoming followers in the marketplace.

The Internet is a great example. Amazon.com has a valuation of $10 billion, while Barnes & Noble, the nation’s largest chain of booksellers, has a valuation of $2 billion. Amazon has no bookstores, Barnes & Noble has more than 1,100 stores. The difference is Amazon.com was founded on revolutionary principles. The Internet is filled with revolutionaries who have a different way of thinking than their peers.

How do you start down the revolutionary path? Here, three steps to try:

1. Be a leader How we view ourselves is the image we project. Don’t wait until someone else takes charge. Be proactive. Take control and lead your company in its industry. Find ways to be on the forefront and not in the critic’s chair. Leaders and revolutionaries face those who are used to doing things the old way. Ford’s early investors were outraged that he worked according to his own plan and timetable.

2. Be innovative Look for ways to change things. Look for solutions where nobody else sees them. Ford was able to create a car chassis eight times faster then his rivals because he was willing to innovate his process of production.

3. Be a visionary Don’t accept the status quo. Ford saw the car as a vehicle for the masses, not just the wealthy few. When his early investors didn’t agree with his vision, he left his first company and started a second. He was not willing to compromise his vision.

Fred Koury is CEO of Small Business News Inc. He can be reached at fkoury@sbnnet.com.