This paper focuses on the business approaches of Madame C. J. Walker and Henry Ford. Both developed innovative and successful approaches in a time of rapid economic change. It compares them in the way they started their respective businesses and the key innovative features that made each successful. It also covers virtues, problems, and successes associated with both. It also touches elements of each in strategies of later leaders and related issues even today.
Innovative entrepreneurs – Walker and Ford
The Industrial Revolution (1760-1840) was a period characterized by the introduction of nascent manufacturing processes which would serve as a foundation for future innovations. Reverberations of this transformative epoch were soon evident within the first half of the 19th century after the extensive adoption of large-scale manufacturing in the United States. It was during this period that the Ford Motor Company and Walker Company emerged as leading manufacturers in the production of automobiles and cosmetics respectively. Henry Ford is credited for his extensive contributions to the automobile industry which began with the introduction of his signature Model-T automobile. Madame C.J Walker, on the other hand, is remembered for introducing a highly effective hair conditioning formula dubbed the Madame Walker Hair Grower. This paper will, therefore, provide a comprehensive evaluation on the business approaches employed by both entrepreneurs during a period of rapid innovation and economic change.
Henry Ford (1863-1947) was a prominent business magnate who also occupied the chief engineer post at Ford Motor Company. During his formative years in the industry, Ford demonstrated the importance of pliability and innovation in entrepreneurship. After a series of failed experiments, Ford finally succeeded in developing the Qudricycle in 1896 as his first automobile concept; a light prototype on four bicycle wheels and powered by gasoline (York, 2016). This initial success prompted him to establish the Ford Motor Company in 1902 with the aim of producing a premium passenger vehicle. After nearly six years of engineering research and practice, Ford produced his legendary Model-T automobile in 1908. The automobile enjoyed unprecedented success in the United States with the demand far exceeding the company’s production capability. Ford’s proactive nature prompted him to introduce assembly lines in his production plants to boost production. Furthermore, he also increased in the daily laborer’s wages from $2.23 to $5 as a methodical strategy and financial incentive to bolster productivity among company employees.
On the other hand, Madame C. J Walker demonstrated the importance of applying practical approaches in business when grappling with inadequate capital in any entrepreneurial venture. Originally known as Sarah Breeddlove, Madame Walker faced numerous difficulties during her developmental years as a member of a Louisiana slave family, before escaping in 1875 with her brother to Mississippi (Bundles, 2020). Here, she became a casual laborer, before starting her journey into cosmetics after a debilitating scalp ailment which resulted in drastic hair loss. Madame Walker’s inquisitive nature saw her consult widely creating a working formula for her Madame Walker Hair Grower cosmetic product. Her dedication to the venture and singleness of purpose saw her conduct door to door marketing in a bid to secure clientele for her product. In 1910, Madame Walker secured an inland manufacturing plant in Indianapolis for her wide range of hair products which greatly expanded the company’s production capacity (Wolny, 2017, p. 56).
It is noteworthy to acknowledge that both entrepreneurs relied on originality, innovativeness, and acclimatizing to changing economic times as key elements to consider in a fledgling business venture. Henry Ford’s resilience him to work patiently for 12 years before finally producing his world-renowned Model-T automobile whose success is largely attributed to the assembly line manufacturing framework. Similarly, Madame Walker surmounted the challenges of beginning a business from inception by consulting widely and applying innovation to develop a unique hair conditioner. Both entrepreneurs also viewed their businesses as an extension of society which is why Ford became a political activist and Madame Walker joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).