What Led to Henry Ford’s Success As An Entrepreneur?

Elena Hudgens
By Elena Hudgens 23 Min Read

Henry Ford was a successful entrepreneur because he never stopped learning. In fact, he learned from mistakes and used those experiences to improve his company. His key to success as an entrepreneur was innovation and the ability to recognize the opportunity. Have you ever wondered what made Henry Ford successful as an entrepreneur? And, what led to Henry Ford’s success as an entrepreneur?

Henry Ford

Henry Ford

Henry Ford was innovative from the beginning. As a child, he would tinker with machines and create inventions out of everyday objects. When he graduated college, he began working with Thomas Edison on new types of electric motors for trains, boats, and mining equipment. He eventually got tired of working with large companies, so in 1903 he created his own company called “Ford Motor Company.”

Have you ever wondered what led to Henry Ford’s success as an entrepreneur? What were his secrets to success? How did he continue to rise and thrive in a time of economic uncertainty? Well, we’ve compiled five reasons why Henry Ford became successful as an entrepreneur. These insights will give you a better understanding of his business acumen and how you can apply it to your own business.

Section 1: Reasons Why Henry Ford Became Successful

Henry Ford is one of the most successful businessmen of all time. But the question still remains, what led to Henry Ford’s success as an entrepreneur?

His company, Ford Motor Co. is still in operation today, almost 100 years later. His ideas have led to success by helping him maximize production and profits. He changed the automobile industry for the better and set many new standards that are still in place today. Along with this, he did this by making sure his workers were well paid and loyal to his company. 

In 1927, Ford finally left the Model T behind and developed a new car model. The Model A. At this point, the automobile industry began to become competitive as other companies like Chevrolet came on the scene. After this, newer car models came to market earlier and faster as cars became more luxurious. He eventually began experimenting with making tractors and airplanes for passengers.

Ford Model T
Ford Model T 
Ford Model A
Ford Model A

Henry Ford was one of the most famous businessmen of his time and it all started with an idea. This quote from Ford, “Whether you think you can, or whether you think you cannot – you are right,” just goes to show that your dreams can come true if you just try hard enough.

Section 2: His Secrets To Success

Henry Ford
Henry Ford

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry A. Ford

Henry Ford, the founder of the American automobile manufacturer Ford Motor Company. Which is widely known not only for his achievements but also for his way of thinking and leading. His legacy is full of great quotes and memories, all of which point to a strong philosophy of entrepreneurship. However, the question remains, what led to Henry Ford’s success as an entrepreneur?

I can think of several other personalities that inspire me as I navigate the entrepreneurial landscape each day. With that in mind, let us take a look at five lessons from Henry Ford that will answer your question – what led to Henry Ford’s success as an entrepreneur?

1. Be so good at what you do that people assume you invented it.

Henry Ford is often referred to as the man who invented the automobile. That’s not remotely true, but Ford was in fact so passionate about the automobile. And so crucial to its presence in American and world culture that he is regularly praised for it.

I am not suggesting that anyone steal credit from others; that would be unethical. But I am suggesting that you approach your work with such passion and excellence that the nature of your work becomes an inseparable part of the market you serve. 

Just as pop culture sometimes credits Al Gore with inventing the Internet (even though he only allowed its development in a legal sense) or refers to the filmmaker. Stanley Kubrick was the inventor of computerized special effects for his work on “2001: A Space Odyssey” (even though he actually did not use computers on that film. 

But merely laid the groundwork for the later computerized effects), people will perceive and define you as a pioneer in your work if you do it with great presence and vigor.

It’s not about polishing up your image. It’s about liberating your highest truth. Do what you love, what sparks your most ardent and exciting emotions. When you do, you’ll find that your love is contagious, and the better you become at what you do, the more people will love that thing too.

Eventually, you will become more than just the person who bakes the cake. You will become the person who MADE the cake in the first place.

2. Failure Is An Opportunity.

Henry Ford
Henry Ford

Ford failed many times before he finally succeeded. Such a trajectory is incredibly common among entrepreneurs. People tend to downplay their failures. Nevertheless, the question remains, what led to Henry Ford’s success as an entrepreneur? The truth is that no one is immune to failure, and that’s a good thing, because failures are merely opportunities disguised as negative events.

As Ford once said, “Failure is simply an opportunity to start over, smarter this time.” In other words, we need to look at our failures as our teachers.

Of course, no one likes the experience of failure. It disrupts our optimism and momentum when our plans do not work out. 

However, we can only benefit from it if we change the way we think about failure.

When you fail, try not to focus on the emotional disappointment, but on the intellectual gain. There is valuable information in every failure: what did we do wrong? How might we do things differently next time?

Failures are simply a form of feedback we receive throughout our life experiences. They teach us what is not working for us. If we do not listen and keep repeating ourselves, then we are truly doomed to fail. But if we listen carefully and get in the habit of adjusting our goals when we fail, we have a chance of truly succeeding in the end.

3. Be As Strong In The Background As You Are In All Other Areas

The last thing an entrepreneur wants to do is fall into the trap of looking impressive on the outside while not having anything substantial to offer behind closed doors. We have all met people like that. We label them as “talkers” and eventually tend not to take them very seriously. Additionally, readers may be inspired to ask, under these circumstances, what led to Henry Ford’s success as an entrepreneur? 

Such people have no chance of creating valuable products and/or services, let alone rising high in the ranks of entrepreneurs. As Henry Ford said, “Quality is doing it right when no one is looking.”

In other words, do not be there to impress. Get involved in the process. Pay attention to the details. Exercise impeccable judgment, down to the smallest aspect of the thing you are dealing with. Because even if people do not see it, they will feel it.

And in the end, according to Ford’s wisdom, it does not matter what people think. All that matters is how well they are served.

4. Avoid Being A Show-Off

There’s a great story about Ford that has to do with his clothing choices.

Ford was known for being outwardly modest and dressing casually. One day his secretary asked him why he did not dress up more. Ford scoffed at the idea, telling her that everyone knew he was Henry Ford and he did not need to emphasize that fact.

Later, while traveling around the world, Ford found himself in foreign countries where no one could recognize him at first glance. So his secretary again suggested that he dress less modestly. His response? He did not want to dress up for people who did not even know he was Henry Ford. So, the remaining question is, what led to Henry Ford’s success as an entrepreneur?

In other words, he did not want to put on airs for anyone, whether they knew who he was or not. If they already knew him, he did not want to create any more hype. If they did not know him, he was not going to put himself in the spotlight. He would simply appear as himself.

Of course, by this time Ford was a famous, wealthy man who no longer felt the pressure of unattained success. Some might view his indifference to personal image as an eccentricity that resulted from his worldwide reputation

But the beliefs that underpinned his clothing choices are wonderful advice for all entrepreneurs. It goes hand in hand with “do it right when no one is looking.” Do not be a walking advertisement for yourself and have little or nothing to offer. Be in service to your customers and clients because they are the ones who really matter and the ones who pay the bills.

5. Don’t Just Focus On Making Money

A business that only makes money is a bad business,” said Mr. Ford.

So many businesses are basically money-makers. They take advantage of people’s weaker impulses, or worse, their immediate, pressing needs. Those who run these businesses may enjoy many comforts, but they will always live in shame. They may not care, the question is whether you do. Moreover, readers can thrive to the question that under these circumstances what led to Henry Ford’s success as an entrepreneur? 

It is much better to be a provider of real value. Money also comes from value. It seems to be a myth that money is the province of the greedy and unethical. Often the opposite is true: so many entrepreneurs succeed financially because they play an important role in people’s lives. 

So money is not the object of the game; it is merely a natural aspect of any transaction. People remember Henry Ford not just as a man who made a lot of money. People remember him primarily as the person who made the assembly line famous and built and sold great cars in the process.

Henry Ford

One Final Comment:

It’s important to point out that Henry Ford’s legacy was tainted by his anti-Semitic views. Which he disseminated en masse via The Dearborn Independent, a Detroit weekly newspaper he bought in 1918. His relentless anti-Semitic statements attracted so much attention that even Adolf Hitler called Ford an “inspiration” to a Detroit News reporter in 1931. 

This is a very dark episode in Henry Ford’s life that got him into a lot of trouble in the United States. After being confronted by various Jewish organizations in America in various ways, including lawsuits and boycotts. Henry Ford apologized for his anti-Semitic remarks and recanted his views in a public letter. Interestingly. This all happened before world war II had even begun.

Robert Lacey wrote in Ford: The Men and the Machines that a close associate of Ford’s reported that when he was shown footage from the Nazi concentration camps. He was “confronted with the atrocities that finally and irrefutably exposed the bestiality of the prejudice to which he had contributed. He collapsed with a stroke – his last and most severe.”

Despite Ford’s great misunderstandings and religious prejudices, for which he later apologized and most likely regretted, his legacy as an entrepreneur is undeniable. Ford’s pursuit of vertical integration set the blueprint for other manufacturers around the world. His River Rouge plant, the largest industrial complex in the world at the time, became so vertically integrated that it could produce its own steel. 

He believed that international trade and cooperation led to world peace, and he used the assembly line process and the production of the Model T to prove it.

Section 3: How Did He Continue To Rise And Thrive In A Time Of Economic Uncertainty?

Henry Ford Changing the Production Model

The home of the Ford Model T is now an abandoned factory complex along busy Woodward Avenue in Highland Park, Michigan, and there’s not much that sets this place apart from Detroit’s other industrial ruins.

But if you stop and walk to the front of the building, you’ll find a historical marker that says more than 9,000 Model T Fords were made here every day until 1925.

And it ends with this sentence, “Mass production soon spread from here to all sectors of American industry, creating a pattern of abundance for 20th-century life.

This actually helped the American middle class of the 20th century to take hold. January 1914 was a freezing month in Detroit – much like January 2014. But thousands still lined up outside in the bitter cold to accept Henry Ford’s extraordinary offer: $5 a day for eight hours of work in a busy factory.

That was more than double the average factory wage at the time, and for American workers, it was one of the defining moments of the 20th century. Five dollars in 1914 is equivalent to about $120 in today’s money. Many economists think today’s employers could take some advice from Ford, but they also say 2014 is a very different world for American businesses and workers.

Repetitive Work Pays Well

Henry Ford was a hard-nosed businessman. He did not introduce the $5 workday because he was a nice guy, says Bob Kreipke, a corporate historian at Ford Motor Co.

Henry Ford
What Led to Henry Ford's Success As An Entrepreneur? 9

“It was mostly about stabilizing the workforce. And it did that,” Kreipke says. “And it raised the bar around the world.”

To understand why Ford thought this was a smart move in January 1914. You have to consider another big change that had taken place a few months earlier: In 1913, a total of 200,000 Model Ts were produced-a feat made possible by the creation of the first moving assembly line. 

Conveyor belts transported small parts to workers, each of whom performed a specific task. This sped up production enormously, but Ford still had a problem: He had standardized production, but not his workforce. Now he did not need especially skilled workers, just those who did the same repetitive, specialized tasks hour after hour, day after day.

Kreipke says there was chronic absenteeism and high employee turnover. So Ford gambled that higher wages would attract better, more reliable workers.

“It was an absolute success,” Kreipke says. “It was even better than anyone had thought.”

The benefits showed up almost immediately. Productivity soared, and Ford Motor Co. doubled its profits in less than two years. Ford called this the best cost-cutting measure he had ever taken.

It is widely believed that Henry Ford also raised wages to expand his market. He paid his employees enough to buy the cars they made. While that was not Ford’s main motivation. It was a welcome byproduct and a turning point says labor economist Harley Shaiken of the College of California, Berkeley.

“It gave us an industrial middle class and an economy driven by consumer demand,” Shaiken says.

Henry Ford may have paid his workers a good wage, but not out of charity. It was a good business decision that some say helped the middle class take off.

The Economy Today Is Different From Yesterday’s

He says Ford proved that higher wages led to more productivity, which in turn was good for the economy. This positive feedback loop led to the emergence of a broad, prosperous middle class. But over the years, economic pressures and political changes have broken that link.

“Today, most employers consider the lowest wage to be the most competitive wage,” Shaiken says.

Today, global supply chains feed a hypercompetitive auto industry where no one wants to give up an inch of ground, and keeping up with technology takes precedence over stabilizing the workforce. This just is not Henry Ford’s economy anymore, Shaiken says.

“There are very real economic pressures that are putting downward pressure on wages,” he says. “So it’s not a simple story, but that does not mean there is not a kernel of truth in what Ford found.”

So a century after Henry Ford started paying $5 a day, it’s far from clear whether today’s employers and employees will enter into a similar collective bargaining agreement and create a 21st-century version of the working middle class.

Section 4: Conclusion

Times are changing, and technology is changing even more. Henry Ford is an avid believer in innovation because of this reason. The last century has seen the creation of smartphones, tablets, and crazy toys like hoverboards. These products would never have been invented if there was no constant need to develop and grow. Henry Ford continuously innovates in terms of his car company. Further, he is even more innovative when it comes to enhancing society and the environment. 

In the more than 100 years since he first founded his company, Henry Ford, for all of his success as an entrepreneur, has been a controversial figure. And what led to Henry Ford’s success as an entrepreneur? Hopefully, after reading this article, you know now how he became so successful and what led to some of his more infamous decisions.

An important part of understanding any person’s life is to put it into context with both their own time and ours. Through this approach, entrepreneurship is also possible. Understanding both the benefits and the drawbacks of entrepreneurship can promote a more balanced approach that results in positive economic outcomes and societal benefits.

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Elena Hudgens is an entrepreneur with 10+ years of experience. She started her journey by building her own e-commerce website on Shopify and turned her $1000 savings to millions in just 2 years. Soon she started different ventures in which she failed and succeeded. And now, she's on a mission to help other entrepreneurs with her life and business lessons.

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