In the 1930s, when I first knew the automotive industry, Alfred Sloan, who ran General Motors, would disappear from Detroit once every six weeks. Next morning he would walk into a dealership in Cincinnati or Kansas City and say, “I am Mr. Sloan from Detroit. Would you allow me to work for two days as your assistant service manager?â€œ When he left, customers always said, “Who was that incompetent clunk?,â€œ but that wasnâ€™t the point of the exercise.
Or he would appear in Albany, New York. I know about this from the Albany dealer, who complained about it very volubly. The old man had been there and said, “Mr. Yeager, do you mind if I work for you as a salesman for three days? I donâ€™t want any commission.â€œ And Mr. Yeager said, “Alfred Sloan cost me more sales than I can possibly tell you.â€œ The point is that when Alfred Sloan went back to Detroit from these forays, he knew customers. Since World War II, nobody in Detroit has done that.
I have not been able to get this idea across to people, even people who have been my friends for 40 years. They donâ€™t get it because not one of them has gone to work as an assistant service manager for two days. They look at statistics; they look at “information.â€œ
Source: Viewpoint What Executives Need to Learn by Peter Drucker | Prism, Issue 4, 1990