March Madness and Motor Moguls

by Tim Weadock

March 12, 2013

What do the greatest college basketball teams and the most successful car companies have in common? All of them had extraordinary leaders who paved the way to victory. As fans of college basketball look forward to the frenzy that is March Madness and car lovers eagerly await warm spring days, the Historic Vehicle Association takes a look at some of the men who led their teams to greatness.

Henry Ford & John Wooden


Henry Ford and John Wooden are the biggest names in their respective arenas. Both men had qualities that shaped their respective worlds for generations to come – like their strong belief in the importance of each individual person on their teams.

The corporate structure Ford established set a standard for employee treatment and motivation that changed the culture of the American workforce and turned Ford into the world’s largest auto manufacturer. After noticing the high turnover rate at his company, Ford instituted the $5-per-day wage and 40-hour work week in an effort to attract and retain the best talent. Ford motivated workers to be at their best professionally and socially by awarding profit sharing to those who remained with the company for more than six months and led respectable lives.

Just as Henry Ford built a successful company by motivating workers, John Wooden led his teams to victory by focusing on his players. The “pyramid of success” was a guide he created to help students understand the 25 behaviors that develop character. The concepts of the pyramid are basic and fundamental, and Wooden’s teams personified the lesson. He was so dedicated to teaching the basics that he began each season by demonstrating the proper way for players to tie their shoes. The “Wizard of Westwood” guided UCLA to 10 national championships over a span of 12 years. His string of seven consecutive national titles is unmatched in college basketball.

Harley Earl & Adolph Rupp


Harley J. Earl and Adolph Rupp were innovative men who pioneered game-changing processes.

Harley Earl led change through invention. He felt that a lack of creativity and inspiration in car design was the reason that buying a car was viewed as an unenjoyable experience. After becoming General Motors’ Head of Design, he created the first in-house design department and sought to alter consumers’ perceptions. He believed that designers needed an understanding of the cars’ mechanical components, just as a sculptor needed an understanding of human anatomy. He replaced the practice of building cars from sketches with clay modeling and introduced the concept car and annual model change as ways of stimulating consumer interest. GM replaced Ford as the world’s largest auto manufacturer in less than a decade under Earl’s leadership.

The “Baron of the Bluegrass,” Adolph Rupp is highly regarded for his strategic abilities. Never one for complacency, Rupp made the most of his teams’ talents. Kentucky ran a motion offense that tormented opposing defenses with constant movement and picks and screens. Rupp’s more athletic teams ran an aggressive fast-break style complemented by a man-to-man defensive scheme. In an era dominated by methodical half-court offenses that were punctuated with a set shot, Rupp’s systems were unprecedented. His inventive schemes have served as templates for many coaches since. At the end of a career that spanned from 1930-1972, Rupp retired with an overall record of 876-190 and four national championships under his belt. He is currently fifth of all time in total wins and second in total number of championships.

Alfred P. Sloan & Bob Knight


Alfred P. Sloan and Bob Knight were not always popular, but they nonetheless achieved success through a structured and disciplined approach to their work.

Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. came to work for GM when his own companies were brought under the GM umbrella. William Durant’s original motivation behind building General Motors was to achieve economic efficiency and a greater output by merging facilities. While his philosophy did meet with success, it led to confusion within GM due to a lack of corporate structure. Sloan identified the problems and authored a plan to reorganize the manufacturing conglomerate. Durant objected to the plan, but it was quickly adopted by then-President Pierre du Pont. Sloan’s plan resulted in the establishment of clear, company-wide expectations and goals. Sloan became president in 1923 and Chairman of the Board in 1937.

There is no figure in college basketball history who was more polarizing than Robert Montgomery Knight. “The General,” as he is known, was the fiery head coach of the University of Indiana and later Texas Tech. At 24, he became the head coach at West Point and in 1971 took over at Indiana. In his 29 years on the IU bench, Coach Knight amassed 11 Big Ten championships, one NIT and three national championships. The 1975-1976 Hoosier team recorded college basketball’s last undefeated season. When the book closed on the General’s coaching career at Texas Tech with a record of 902-371, he had surpassed Dean Smith as the winningest coach in men’s college basketball.

While many players will admit to not always liking Bob Knight, they profess appreciation and love for the influence he had on their lives. Yes, he threw chairs across the court, cursed like a sailor and was difficult with the media, but his dedication to the sport, players and higher education cannot be questioned. Love him or hate him, you can’t argue with the results.



  1. Jim Benson Arden,NC

    I do wish that we had more people like Harley J. Earl running GM these days and maybe the cars would be more exciting than what they are producing today. It was alot more fun to buy a car back in the sixties when you would set down with the salesman and order exactly what you wanted from the carburator to the rear end gears and everything in between. Now those were exciting days to be alive and live in America!!!!

  2. daryl judd spokane, wa

    There were many factors that lead to GM surpassing Ford, the most important being GM had 5 divisions to Ford's 3. Earl did institute many new design ideas but so did others and many GM designs under Earl's guidance were dismal failures as well, just as the Edsel was for Ford. The excess of outlandish amounts of chrome, fins and overweight, oversized vehicles is another side of the Earl legacy which is rarely discussed.