Daniel Willard and Progressive Management on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad

David M. Vrooman

Historical Perspectives on Business Enterprise



218 pp. 6x9

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David Vrooman’s ground-breaking study examines the personnel policies of Daniel Willard, one of the most progressive American business leaders of the first half of this century.

As president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad from 1910 to 1941, Willard introduced management practices that were well ahead of their time. Working from the simple and unshakeable belief that the company, its employees, and its customers all shared essentially the same long-term interests, Willard fostered a corporate culture remarkable for its orientation toward the concerns of both its customers and its employees. Vrooman’s study analyzes the basics of Willard’s approach: low-level participative management combined with employment stabilization, cooperative relationships with unions, and a general philosophy of the company as family. As Vrooman demonstrates, Willard’s progressive management policies were strikingly similar to what has become known as the Japanese management style.

Willard’s management style progressed through three main phases, marked by three programmatic thrusts: welfare capitalism and other foundation measures, the union-management Cooperative Plan, and the Depression-induced Cooperative Traffic Program. Of these, the Cooperative Plan is the most significant—it was the most vigorous and long-lasting of a new number of cooperative management efforts begun in the United States during the 1920s and was the precursor of today's quality circles.

Vrooman concludes that managerial effectiveness comes not so much from technique as from character. The strength of the service-oriented corporate family that Willard created stemmed from his rigorous commitment to what he felt was right. Willard's modest demeanor and consistent actions, combined with his personal vision, were responsible for inspiring the loyalty and motivation that made his managerial programs successful.

David M. Vrooman is Professor of Business Administration at Wittenberg University and the coauthor of Nursing Home Management: A Humanistic Approach, as well as numerous articles on management practice.