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Last Call — The Penalty of Leadership

Phillip Thomas December 20, 2012 Last Call 10 Comments


I recently attended one of Cadillac’s V-Series Performance Labs at the Circuit of the America’s F1 track in Austin, TX. Cadillac’s recent revival reminded me of Cadillac ad that I discovered a few years ago.

In 1915, Cadillac was struggling. In an act to keep up with Packard, who recently released their new six-cylinder engine, Cadillac put out their first V8. The cars were troubled, tarnishing Cadillac’s high-quality status, much to their competitors’ satisfaction. In an effort to regain confidence in the brand, Cadillac’s ad-man, Theodore F. MacManus, wrote a piece for an issue of 1915’s Saturday Evening Post. What MacManus wrote was a powerful lesson on success, innovation, and competition…

“In every field of human endeavor, 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 world 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.”

MacManus’ ad in and of itself is a strong piece on success, innovation, and competition;  One that can be applied to many facets of life. Nearly a hundred years later, Cadillac is yet again at a point of revival. I could argue that Cadillac’s flawed engines of the last thirty years are akin to their first V8 in 1915. I could argue that Don Butler is Cadillac’s modern MacManus. 

Packard is dead, Cadillac is alive. That which deserves to live—lives:

P.S. Doing one-hundred-forty miles-per-hour in a CTS-V wagon on an F1 track is really, really, really fun.


  • Van_Sarockin

    Don't be suckered by the sophistry of ad copy. Especially when Packard carried on with notable success for about another forty years. The ad tells you not to pay attention to the cavils of the rabble, and then asserts that it is recognition by the masses that denotes success. You can't have it both ways.

    • Texan_idiot25

      You can, recognition by the masses is not the same as being the ire of your competitors. You can accept success as recognition by (Or envy of) the masses while ignoring the jealous cries of your competitors. The ad suggests that the fact that your competitors are envious is proof of your success.

      Let the "hataz hate".

      • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

        Your last sentiment, I agree with, but this ad was to bamboozle, to trick potential buyers that the sophisticated know what is better, to make the reader wish to identify with that rarified group, that Cadillac makes a good product, that in fact was poor, and imply that other makes were jealous and spreading falsehoods, with the wool being pulled over the eyes of the reader with flowery prose mainly and allusion, this ad must have inspired generations of propaganda and spin meisters.

        • skitter

          In De Toqueville's ideal of America, limited means do not make someone insignificant. A person and their America are as great or little as their minds, and the American attitude has long been to defy conventional wisdom, limited thinking, and fixed hierarchies. In Cadillac's America of 1915, the loudest detractors of any change are those who would crown themselves tastemakers and trendsetters, held back by all the actual opinions and thoughts of other people. Pushing the cutting edge is about pursuing the full potential of people and ideas. In the 1960s, Cadillac did began to celebrate the sophistication of their customers over the sophistication of their cars, and has yet to live down the stagnation and disgrace of the following decades.

  • "When a man’s work becomes a standard for the whole world, it also becomes a target for the shafts of the envious few."…

    Maybe this is why every Cadillac, including the outstanding CTS-V, looks so ugly from the rear.

  • Target29

    My new favorite quote "P.S. Doing one-hundred-forty miles-per-hour in a CTS-V wagon on an F1 track is really, really, really fun."-Phillip Thomas

  • jeepjunkie

    Ok, now a I never in my entire life thought I would admit this, but I LIKE my new Cadillac. Sure, it is a cross over, yes it gets over twice the mpg than the Expedition did, goes from 0 to anything, faster than that ole Ford did, is MUCH more comfortable than that old Ford ever was, even has heated seats, something that ole Ford only had after driving for a good ten minutes. It won't blow the spark plugs out of the cylinder head like the ole Expo was prone to do..It is smaller so it takes up less space in the garage. (This leaves me more room for the beer fridge. No, NOT a deciding factor in it's purchase.) It is also much more comfortable to drive than my 46 2A. But, it is a lot less to maintain and DAMN my wife likes it. So it I guess Cadillac did something right. After over 25 years, they finally showed me how to make my wife happy… I think I'll go to the garage and have a cold one now…

  • The cars definitely have their aesthetic faults. Still, the mere fact that the Cadillac is well on the way to recovery and revival speaks volumes about the ability of the leadership to steer the company in the right direction.