Durant builds Buick, creates GM and Chevrolet
Durant, known as Billy to business associates, was a quietly charismatic figure, neither loud nor a back-slapper. He was about 5-foot-8, slim, often flashing a big smile and in his mid-40s always carrying an air of confidence. Besides his reputation as a supersalesman , he was also becoming known as a genius as a promoter and organizer of businesses. However he was also criticized for a lack of brakes when the economy turned sour.
His accomplishments were spectacular. Within four years after taking control of Buick, the country's top carriage producer was now the No. 1 producer of automobiles. On Buick's success Durant created a holding company named General Motors in 1908 and quickly combined Buick with Oldsmobile in Lansing, 50 miles down the road. In two years he added Cadillac, Oakland (Pontiac predecessor), several truck builders and several dozen other companies under the GM umbrella. Some were admittedly cats and dogs, some formed the nucleus of today's GM. He raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a huge Buick industrial complex on Flint's north side. He tried to buy Ford as well, but bankers turned down his 1909 request for an $8-million loan to take control. Two years later, he pointed out, Ford was worth $35 million and his bankers never forgave themselves. (But that was okay with Durant. He said he never would have built Ford Motor Company as well as Henry Ford did).
Two years after Durant created GM, the bankers cut off his credit and took control. So Durant, with just a little help from former Buick race driver Louis Chevrolet, put together Chevrolet Motor Company. Through promotion, business deals and just plain salesmanship, Durant built Chevrolet into a giant within five years, traded Chevrolet stock for GM stock, and in 1915-16 regained control of GM from the bankers. Taking the presidency of GM, the company he had founded, for the first time, he now built GM into a company eight times larger than the GM he had regained in 1916. Along the way he added Fisher Body and developed a fledgling refrigerator company he himself named Frigidaire - another "self-seller" - before turning it over to GM. He also brought into GM such iconic automotive stars as Alfred P. Sloan Jr. and Charles F. Kettering. Never missing an opportunity to get help from old Flint associates, he leaned on A.B.C. Hardy, a former Durant-Dort president who in 1901-03 was Flint's first automobile builder, to manage Chevrolet production in Flint.