An inspirational saga
of a different kind:
David Dunbar Buick (1854-1929)
Rags to Riches stories have always inspired us. Thrilled us. Given us a boost to struggle harder.
We salute such heroes.
But what about some indomitable souls, highly creative, with uncrushable penchant for innovation, passionate to the extent of insanity about their dream, unaware of the worldly ways of business, art of negotiations & selling, and that is why easy prey for the sharks and shylocks. They got cheated but never cheated anyone.
The name might live on for a hundred years after them but they died in penury, died pauper, penniless but nevertheless, graciously, without any grudge against those who tricked them, or against the hardships they underwent!
I feel their stories will inspire us equally if not more, drive us to be different like them, no matter what.
We may salute today David Buick (son of Scottish immigrants. Arrived in US at the age of two and lost his father at the age of five. Mother worked hard to raise him.
Temperamental by nature. Poor in business skills. Creative and innovative to the highest degree, defying the handicap of limited schooling.
He went to build a motor car company, gave it his name. World’s largest motor car company, General Motors was built over his Buick Motor Car Co. He developed car engine design that is virtually used by all car manufacturers today.
He created the second oldest
car company (next only to Cadillac). More than 25-30 million cars have so far carried his name BUICK, although he made only first 120 of them. US
Yet he died a poor man, working as a receptionist in a polytechnic school, not able to afford even a telephone.
Buick Left school at the age of 15 and started to work for a plumbing materials company. Later on he, at the age of 28 and his partner bought it.
Cast iron bath tubs were the luxury item in those years. He invented the novel process to use vitreous enamel and make the bathtubs white. His technique made him a pioneer in his business. Remember the’ lawn sprinkler’? He gave it to us.
Tangently thinking, he started toying with car engine design in 1890s. He was devoting more time on car engines than plumbing business. He was so engrossed in creative pursuits that the partner pressed him either to get down to business or get out. The partnership was dissolved and plumbing business was sold out. for $100,000 in 1899 (quite a handsome amount at that time).
Not giving up, he started Buick Auto Vim & Power Co. It was planned to market engines for agricultural purposes but he would now think of a full-fledged car only.
His innovation was terrific but he was always short of cash because his capital was not resulting in any sales. Just R&D! He gets an investor. He sold his first car for $225 as he was always in need of money to run the show. Closes down the venture.
In 1902, he starts Buick Mfg Co. but runs out of money very soon. Borrows money under such terms that would spell his ruin and haunt him for ever.
In 1903, he starts Buick Motor Co. And this was also to mark birth of a great empire called General Motors Corp!
He borrows $3500 from one investor, Benjamin Briscoe. They create the company capital of $100,00 of which Briscoe allots shares worth $99,700 to himself and passes on remaining, worth $300to Buick, and that too with a condition: Briscoe will forfeit Buick’s share I the business and his right if he fails to repay his loan in four months time! Briscoe was only after his loan recovery and Buick was a helpless victim of this cruel reality.
Just prior to Briscoe’s deadline, in 1903, Buick sold away his business to a wealthy businessman William C Durant, who had a carriage manufacturing business ( Flint Wagon Works) & later on, who came to be known as the founder of General Motors.
Durant had been using a car made by Buick for several months. He realized more and more that it was better than any other car in the market and would handle the slopes of the hills and the mud in rough terrain better. This bargain with Durant was to prove even worse for David Buick.
Durant shifted the factory to another location and Buick was made Secretary of the company. Buick was allotted 1500 shares by Durant but they were not to be transferred in his name until Buick repaid his personal debts to Durant.
In 1904 David Buick was made GM when Durant re-organized Buick Motor Co. There was a clash of ideology between the two and onwards Buick’s role in the company operations started to decline very fast. Durant took away his title as a manager.
By 1906, Durant unceremoniously gave to Buick the pink slip. Buick was so disgusted with the state of affairs that – two years later, in 1908- he sold away his shareholding to Durant for $100,000.
This was another great blunder because in no time that value would grow more than 100-115 times, had Buick the business wisdom to hold on to it!
He put the money in some oil venture, some land business which was not his cup of tea. He obviously was plagued by losses one more time.
Not to be outdone, his passion for cars once again created an urge in him to design carburetors with his son. In 1923, h designed a car too. But all was destined to doom.
He got a job in
of Trades as an Instructor. An automobile wizard teaching junior students in what was known as the automobile capital of Detroit School ! It is said that from this post he was demoted as a receptionist! USA
When 1928, a young journalist interviewed him, he was a “thin bent, little man of 74” working behind the information desk of Detroit School of Trade, so much ruined financially that he could not even afford the luxury of having a telephone connection in his name!
Yet, David Buick was very frank about his life’s journey, had no regrets for his ups and down and , best of all, showed no grudge against Durant, who had shunted him out of Buick Motor Company. The world knew that Buick business had given Durant the credibility and courage and cash to acquire other leading brands and create GM as a great juggernaut.
(This was a great moment – this interview between the young and the old – because the interviewer was none other than Bruce Catton who became a great reporter & several years later won the Pulitzer prize).
In 1937, after years of neglect, GM decided to adopt the Buick logo on the cars which David Buick had created in early years.
Thus ends the story of David Dunbar Buick, who deserved fame and fortune and our gratitude for his innovations that have made our life simpler and the value he created through his technical prowess, with little formal schooling and his magnanimity towards those who were not so kind to him!
When a few years ago Buick division of GM celebrated its 100 years, the restless, innovative soul of David Dunbar Buick must have had a great joy !!