2.1 Introduction

Michael P. Ford
Mar 13 · 3 min read

In 1979, John D. Mucros and his wife, Ginny, were living in Dublin, CA. Thirteen years, eight assignments and five relocations after starting with International Harvester straight out of college, K’s Uncle John was a “truck sales manager” making $41,000 a year plus benefits. In that same year, his employer made $370 million on sales of $8.4 billion with nearly a hundred thousand people on its payroll: “132 years after its incorporation by Cyrus McCormick,” the company was “an industry leader in the manufacture of agricultural and construction products, engines, and medium and heavy-duty trucks.”¹ And then “the roof fell in”. From 1980 to 1984, International Harvester “lost $3 billion — even though its truck division remained in the black.” As a result, the company was “forced to devote its efforts to selling off assets that could be sold, reducing costs in every way possible and negotiating a series of debt restructurings.”² According to Uncle John, “International was forced to sell all company retail locations as part of the restructuring required by the bank consortium.” Such a requirement meant that some eighty dealerships went on the auction block overnight.

Who would be willing to buy into International at such a calamitous time, a time when the company was in the process of becoming America’s latest and greatest “corporate tragedy”?³ At what price — not only in terms of hard cash but also in terms of salvaging its capacity to sell and service its remaining lines — would the company have to sell its retail operations? Records indicate that on January 5, 1981, K’s uncle completed a “Dealer Survey” as part of his application to become an International truck dealer.

“The Bewitched Groom,” Hans Baldung (1544–45)

Ethnographers of commercial practice have “found that much of the power to control what others came to know involved decontextualization of key conditions and processes for producing succession…In such circumstances it makes sense to engage in an anthropology of recontextualization, exploring ethnographically the practices through which the prestigious and powerful erase and fabricate the conditions of their own production.”⁴ Our aim in this chapter is to contextualize the Mucros family business within the extended commercial enterprise and, in doing so, shine a light on the complex relations between “the social and the intimate,” between “trading in history” and “producing families,”⁵ and the vital role that family continues to play. We begin with a look at the broader historical record, which depicts the rise, fall and overhaul of the International Harvester Corporation. In doing so, we draw attention to the fact that while other observers acknowledge the importance of International’s relationship with its dealers, that very relationship counts for little or nothing when it comes to explaining the company’s fight to survive, restructure and — ultimately — thrive. Then, we take a look at the criteria used by International for dealer selection and apply those criteria to two very different cases: that of John Mucros in 1981 and that of an applicant who became an International dealer decades later. In doing so, we draw attention to the manner in which the dealer-candidate-criteria appears to have shifted over the years in such a way that a once prominent dimension of the situation has effectively been erased. Finally, we present evidence of the family’s role in the founding, on-going operation and eventual demise of the Mucros family business.⁶

[1] Stephen A. Greyser and Norman Klein, “Navistar International Corporation: Charting a New Course,” Harvard Business School, Case#9–589–068 (1988), p.2.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Barbara Marsh, A Corporate Tragedy: The Agony of International Harvester (Doubleday, 1985).

[4] Jean Lave, “Re-serving Succession in a British Enclave,” in Joao de Pina-Cabral and Antonia Pedroso de Lima, eds. Elites: Choice, Leadership and Succession (Berg Press, 2000), p.170.

[5] On “the social and the intimate,” see Dorthy Holland and Jean Lave, eds. History in Person: Enduring Struggles, Contentious Practice, Intimate Identities (SAR Press, 2001); on the project called Producing Families, Trading in History: An Ethno-Historical Investigation of the Port Trade of Northern Portugal project, see Jean Lave, “Re-serving Succession in a British Enclave,” in João de Pina-Cabral and Antónia Pedroso de Lima, eds. Elites: Choice, Leadership and Succession (Berg Press, 2000), p.197n6.

[6] On the “polysemous” nature of the question of how one gets to be something, see Jean Lave, “Getting to be British in Porto,” in Holland and Lave (2001), p.313.

SALESMANISM

Using the representational strategy most congruent with its subject matter ― Plato’s “likely story” ― Salesmanism is the first of a two-volume publishing program that answers Albert Lautman’s call by attempting to “remake the Timaeus”.

Michael P. Ford

Written by

Public Servant, Independent Scholar & Social Entrepreneur

SALESMANISM

Using the representational strategy most congruent with its subject matter ― Plato’s “likely story” ― Salesmanism is the first of a two-volume publishing program that answers Albert Lautman’s call by attempting to “remake the Timaeus”.

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