!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Alfred Sloan's Memoir III: Management of Cash Flow

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Alfred Sloan's Memoir III: Management of Cash Flow

Until Alfred Sloan and his senior management colleagues stepped into the breach, handling of cash flow at GM was a shambles. For instance, in Chapter 8 of My Years with General Motors, Sloan reports:

The way cash was handled at that time [1920] is almost unbelievable. Each division controlled its own cash, depositing all receipts in its own accounts and paying all bills from those same acounts. Since only the divisions sold products, none of these cash receipts flowed directly to the corporation itself. We had no effective procedure for getting cash from the points where we happened to have some to the points where we happened to need some. When the corporation, as an operating company, had to pay dividends and taxes, and such items as rent, salaries and other expenses of the general staff, the usual procedure was for the treasurer to request cash from the divisions. That was not so simple as it sounds, however, for the divisions, operating independently, tried to keep their cash balances high enough to satisfy their own peak requirements. Therefore, when they had more cash than they needed at the moment, they were not eager to turn it over to the corporation.

I remember that Buick, for example, at that time was very loath to give up its cash. This profitable division was, of course, the most prolific source of cash for the corporation, and long experience had made Buick's financial staff highly adept at delaying its report of the cash they had on hand. Buick made a practice of maintaining large cash balances in its factory sales branches. The amounts of these balances were not ascertainable at headquarters until Buick had submitted its monthly financial statement for the division as a whole — and this was usually a month or two after the fact. When the corporation needed cash, the treasurer, Meyer Prentis, would try to guess how much Buick actually had and how much of it he could probably get from them. Then he would go to Flint, discuss whatever other questions might be outstanding between Buick and headquarters, and at last casually bring up the subject of cash. Buick's financial people would invariably express surprise at the size of Mr. Prentis' request and occasionally would try to resist the transfer of such a large amount. Naturally, this cat-and-mouse game did not result in the most efficient utilization of funds, especially when some divisions had more operating cash than they needed, at the same time that other divisions were short of operating cash.

In 1922 we changed all this by setting up a consolidated cash-control system. This was a new concept for a large corporation. Depository accounts were established in some one hundred banks in the United States, and all incoming receipts were deposited in these accounts to the credit of General Motors Corporation. All withdrawals from them were administered by the central Financial Staff; the divisions had no control over cash transfers from these deposit accounts.

[pp. 122-123, 1990 edition]


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