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Even celebrities know the importance of starting out small before making it big when working hard and making a career successful. Henry Ford did the same before building his famous automotive company. But, there are some singers out there, like Berry Gordy, who learned success by working at a couple of automotive plants. Which ones were they, and how did they kickstart his company?

Berry Gordy’s claim to fame

Motown's Berry Gordy dressed in a suit in front of a black and gold front.
Motown’s Berry Gordy | Getty Images

Gordy was born on November 28th, 1929. According to Britannica, he dropped out of Northeastern High School in Detroit, MI, known as the “Motor City.” He tried to make a career out of boxing but left to go into the Army in 1951. 

He left the armed forces in 1953 and returned to Detroit, where he would find odd jobs at automotive plants until he started his famous record company in 1959. His business took off, and he represented many big stars of the day. 

He helped the likes of Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and The Temptations. However, the biggest name he produced with his company was Michael Jackson, a rising star with his musical family. 

Berry Gordy’s jobs at Ford and Lincoln-Mercury plants

Gordy worked at two different plants, one of which was likely with Ford Motor Company in Rogue River, according to Adam’s Auto Advice. This is where he had the job for one whole day, getting fired after requesting a transfer elsewhere in the plant because he felt the working conditions were too strenuous.

He then went to a Lincoln-Mercury plant, owned by Ford Motor Company, in what Adams Auto felt was in Wayne, MI, but it’s not clear in Gordy’s autobiography. During the two years he held on to this job, he made approximately $86.40 a week for assembling automobiles at the plant. 

Gordy explains in his autobiography, To Be Loved, that his job was to fasten chrome strips and upholstery to the vehicle frames. He left in 1957, but before he did, he would prepare himself for a long music career.

How his automotive jobs led him to Motown

While he worked at the Michigan plant, he began composing music in his head during his shifts. Gordy explains in his autobiography that he would use a tonal to a numerical system that he developed on his own. He wrote music to get through some of his toughest work shifts at the plant. 

Also, according to NADA, he was inspired by the job as well. He was quoted as saying, “Those slow-moving car frames were the loveliest sight I’d ever seen.” What was he referring to? Well, likely the assembly line where the frames would start as bare metal, and when they got to the end, they would come off the line a whole new automobile. 

This gave him the idea that singers could come in with no experience, go through a process, and come out as musical stars in the end. Of course, it takes a vehicle, like a Ford F-150, about 12 hours to get built, and usually years for a singer to get famous. So, in 1959, the Motown Record Corporation company was born. 

Berry Gordy used his past experiences to become a successful recording company owner. Even his small stint at a couple of automotive plants helped teach him work ethics that would make him one of the most famous American business owners in history. Ford’s CEO Jim Farley was quoted as saying, “Our truck is here today because we rolled up our sleeves.” That’s precisely what Gordy did before making his company a successful business. 


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