William C. Durant

Called "Billy" for most of his life William C. Durant dropped out of high school to work in his grandfather's lumber business. As a master speculator and investor, he formed the foundation on which American automobile industry developed. In 1904 he leveraged stocks to purchase control of Buick Manufacturing Company, which under his management became a leader in the sector.

Perhaps the best move of Durant's career came in 1908 when he founded General Motors with $2,000 of his own money. Investors shared his vision and in less than two weeks stocks raised staggering $12 million. General Motors soon purchased the Olds Corporation, as well as more than two dozen competitors and suppliers.

The aggressive expansion strategy took its toll, Durant's ability came into question and investors squeezed him out of control in 1910. His response was the founding of Chevrolet Motor Car Company, named after the famous racer and designer Louis Chevrolet. The company was so profitable that Durant actually used the capital to buy control of General Motors again.

General Motors became an automobile industry giant that dominated the market. Expansion, however, came at a high price. The company was in problems and survived thanks to the capital from Pierre Samuel du Pont III, who became President as Durant departed one more time. He established Durant Motors, a company which was destroyed during the Wall Street collapse of 1929 and the Great Depression of 1930s.

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