John N. Willys: the â€śNapoleon of Automobile Financeâ€?
The New York Times called John North Willys the â€śNapoleon of automobile finance,â€? and likened him to Sinclair Lewisâ€™ fictional character Samuel Dodsworth, an innovative automobile magnate full of ambition, conviction, character and purpose. B.C. Forbes regarded Willys as the financial come-back wonder of the 1920s, moving from â€śdeficits aggregating almost $20,000,000 in 1920 and 1921 to profits approaching $20,000,000 in 1925,â€? and â€śFrom cash on hand of less than $300,000 in 1922 to some $20,000,000 at the end of three years.â€? John Willys is the all-American story of a successful man who played a pivotal role in the evolution of the automobile industry. Willys was born in Canandaigua, NY, southeast of Rochester, on Oct. 25, 1873. His entrepreneurial spirit was evident from the start. As a boy he noticed how wagon drivers tended to let their reins fall down to their horsesâ€™ feet, so he sold little clamps to the coachmen to hold the reins in place. He saved what he earned. In 1888, at age 15, he decided to take a break from his public education and convinced his parents to let him partner up with a friend and buy a laundry in Seneca Falls, 25 miles distant. His parents relented, hoping it would bring him to his senses and back to school. Living in a boarding house was not easy, but the two boys made it pay and finally sold out for a $100 profit apiece. Willys returned home intent on pursuing a college education and becoming a lawyer.