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MANAGEMENT: Young Tom Saffady

4 minute read

Tom Saffady is a broad-shouldered, slim-hipped Detroiter with the somber, brooding eyes of a musician and the calloused but sensitive hands of a good mechanic. In the last five years, his mechanic’s hands have tinkered out 75 inventions such as:

¶ A plastic beer-bottle cap.

¶ An electric refrigerator run by radio tubes, instead of chemicals.

¶ A housewives’ butter slicer run by a flashlight battery.

¶ A special head for gasoline motors which increases horsepower enormously.

¶ A complicated device for measuring the smoothness of metal surfaces, vital in metal fabricating, which can be made for one-tenth the $1,200 they now cost.

¶ A razor that requires resharpening only once every five years.

Despite the Rube Goldbergish sound of some of his gadgets, Tom Saffady has cashed in heavily on his tinkering. At 27, he is owner and manager of Detroit’s Sav-Way Industries. Frequently, he puts in as many as 16 hours a day in his sleek, paneled office, with its private bar, or in his four plants, humming with war contracts. Net income of his company last year: $400,000. Last week he had something besides inventions up his sleeve. He was working on a plan to cut his 600-odd employes in on profits.

Down to $18. Detroit-born son of a Syrian immigrant, Tom Saffady went to work in a machine shop after graduating from high school. He moved from shop to shop because he liked to tackle new problems. At the N. A. Woodworth Co. he so simplified his piecework job that in four hours he turned out double the work of the eight-hour men and earned $600 a month. With too much time on his hands, he quit to start his own tool shop in a building he constructed. In the first several months, he did exactly $18 worth of business. He was forced to move his bride out of their comfortable home into a shack until the tide turned.

Three years ago, he had to expand his Sav-Way Industries. As he started to build a new plant, WPB banned steel construction. Saffady got around this. He bought quantities of secondhand pipe, worked out a method of welding it into girders, built his own plant while less ingenious folk sat and grumbled. When he found it impossible to buy vitally needed internal grinders, he designed and built his own. They worked out so well that, at $5,900 each, he has already sold 300.

Necessity’s Child. Many of his inventions were similarly mothered by necessity. Others were caused by his hot temper. Example: He quarreled with the one company able to supply his plant with badly needed spindles. Then he not only invented his own, but wrote a lengthy treatise on why his were better, and finally started to sell them in competition. Sometimes he invents for the fun of it, i.e., his butter slicer, or to keep his mind sharp. Once he was badly pinched for a special steel to fill an order for tank axles for an auto company. The company had steel, but warned Saffady that it did not meet the specifications. He bought the steel anyway, worked out a new method to process it, and sold the steel back—in axles.

Up to $6,000,000. Though Sav-Way is strictly a war baby, Saffady is unworried about the future. He expects to boost his gross another $1,500,000 this year to $6,000,000; he also expects to cut his prices so his net will remain the same, and thus save him the bother of renegotiation. At war’s end he expects most of his present business to vanish. Then he will simply riffle through his inventions, decide which ones can be made easily in his plants. He will farm out the rest. But he has no intention of expanding beyond his present size. There would be too much worry, too little time to invent. Said he: “Nuts to expansion.”

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