FOR RELEASE: April 25, 1996 CONTACT: Buick Communications
OLD VOICE RECORDING LETS AUTO PIONEER BILLY DURANT `SPEAK' AT HALL OF FAME INDUCTION
SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The late William C. "Billy" Durant, a flamboyant industrialist who created General Motors and lost control of it twice, "talked" in public tonight (Thursday, April 25) for the first time in half a century, as he was inducted into the Business Hall of Fame.
A recently discovered voice recording of Durant -- a New Year's greeting to a relative on Dec. 31, 1931 -- was played before a banquet crowd of about 1,500 as Buick General Manager Edward H. Mertz accepted Durant's business "Oscar" at a ceremony in a downtown hotel.
Durant was among eight legendary business leaders selected by Fortune magazine and honored at the Junior Achievement National Business Hall of Fame conference.
The eight, previously announced, are (in alphabetical order) Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Corp.; Peter F. Drucker, author and consultant; Durant; Henry Ford II; Alonzo Herndon, a former slave who founded Atlanta Life Insurance Co.; Howard Hughes, aviator, Hollywood producer and industrialist; John G. Smale, Jr., former Procter & Gamble leader who later became General Motors chairman; and Sir John Templeton, philanthropist and founder of the Templeton Growth Fund of Toronto.
The three-minute 64-year-old recording on a five-inch aluminum disc was discovered in the relative's desk by William Durant Radebaugh of Battle Creek, Mich. It displays Durant's enthusiasm and sense of humor.
Durant had invested in "U&I Broadcasting System" and boasted that its personal recordings cost only 10 cents each. "If you don't have 10 cents, send me a telegram and I'll send you a dime," Durant tells Ella Day, his wife's great-aunt. "If you talk fast enough, you can get a lot for your money."
Speaking with a slight Boston accent (his early childhood was there) and referring to himself as "Mr. Willie DOO-rant," a pronunciation that surprised historians, he tells Mrs. Day to play the recording on her phonograph. "If you haven't a phonograph, you're out of luck," he advises.
Durant was a leader in the carriage industry when he took over the tiny Buick Motor Co. in 1904. Within four years he promoted Buick into No. 1 in U.S. production and on Buick's success he founded General Motors in 1908. Durant lost control of GM to bankers in 1910 but regained control after founding Chevrolet Motor Co. with former Buick race driver Louis Chevrolet in 1911.
Durant helped build GM into a giant before losing control of the company again in 1920. He then founded Durant Motors, became a bull in the stock market, went bankrupt in the Depression and spent his last business years running a bowling alley in his adopted home town of Flint, Mich., in the 1940s.