By most accounts, Leland wasn't easy to work for. An engineer by trade, he demanded precision from those around him, often bluntly. By the time the Ford investors brought him in, Leland had a reputation as a talented engine builder, believing parts should be interchangeable, and his engine was compact enough he carried it into the meeting with investors. By 1903, the first Cadillac with Leland's engine hit the market, and soon Cadillac became the best-selling cars in America, renown for a reliability that most start-up carmakers couldn't match.
Sticking to his principles sped Leland to his ruin; he quit GM when it refused to aid the effort for World War I, deciding to build a factory for V-12 aircraft engines. Leland named the factory after the first president he'd voted for — the Lincoln Motor Co. When the Army abruptly cancelled the contract and left Lincoln with a massive debt, Leland returned to luxury cars, with the first Lincolns rolling out in 1920. But an economic downturn forced the company into bankruptcy, and only Henry Ford saw fit to bid for its assets. While Ford made a show of keeping Leland, then 79, on at Lincoln, he quickly undermined Leland and his son, until both resigned in protest and filed suit. Leland died a decade later, having started the two great American luxury automakers and saved GM, but with nothing to show for all of it.
Well, not quite nothing. During the internal debate at GM over whether to build his V-8, Leland had Cadillac's ad agency craft a rebuttal that ran once, in the Saturday Evening Post in January 1915. "The Penalty of Leadership" stands as one of the greatest ads ever written, and works as well as a manifesto for Leland and anyone who has ever fought for greatness against settling for good enough:
In every field of human endeavour, he that is first must perpetually live in the white light of publicity. Whether the leadership be vested in a man or in a manufactured product, emulation and envy are ever at work. In art, in literature, in music, in industry, the reward and the punishment are always the same. The reward is widespread recognition; the punishment, fierce denial and detraction. When a man's work becomes a standard for the whole world, it also becomes a target for the shafts of the envious few. If his work be mediocre, he will be left severely alone -- if he achieves a masterpiece, it will set a million tongues a-wagging. Jealousy does not protrude its forked tongue at the artist who produces a commonplace painting. Whatsoever you write, or paint, or play, or sing, or build, no one will strive to surpass or to slander you unless your work be stamped with the seal of genius. Long, long after a great work or a good work has been done, those who are disappointed or envious, continue to cry out that it cannot be done. Spiteful little voices in the domain of art were raised against our own Whistler as a mountback, long after the big would had acclaimed him its greatest artistic genius. Multitudes flocked to Bayreuth to worship at the musical shrine of Wagner, while the little group of those whom he had dethroned and displaced argued angrily that he was no musician at all. The little world continued to protest that Fulton could never build a steamboat, while the big world flocked to the river banks to see his boat steam by. The leader is assailed because he is a leader, and the effort to equal him is merely added proof of that leadership. Failing to equal or to excel, the follower seeks to depreciate and to destroy -- but only confirms once more the superiority of that which he strives to supplant. There is nothing new in this. It is as old as the world and as old as human passions -- envy, fear, greed, ambition, and the desire to surpass. And it all avails nothing. If the leader truly leads, he remains -- the leader. Master-poet, master-painter, master-workman, each in his turn is assailed, and each holds his laurels through the ages. That which is good or great makes itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial. That which deserves to live -- lives.
- Henry Leland
- Henry Ford