Whiz Kids

By Deane Barker

This has two common meanings, one depending on the other.

Just after World War 2, ten veterans and their commander went to work at Ford. They had all served in the Army during the war in a unit called Statistical Control, which broke new ground in information management for logistics.

After the war, they marketed their services to corporate America, and were hired by Ford as a group.

This is a review of a book about the Whiz Kids which helps put into context what they did.

There were ten so-called “Whiz Kids” – youngish veterans of the Army Air Force’s Statistical Control Command who in 1946 sold Henry Ford II on hiring them as a unit to revivify his troubled empire.

[The author] takes the Whiz Kids and their disciples to task for putting near-blind faith in the decisive power of numbers and arrogantly imposing severe financial constraints on enterprises whose bottom-line results could almost certainly have been improved by allowing fallible human beings to exercise their intuition and creativity.

One of the men was Robert McNamara, who became Secretary of Defense under JFK in 1961 (after becoming the president of Ford for just two months). He surrounded himself with a group of RAND executives that inherited the “Whiz Kids” title, to assist him in the management of the Department of Defense.

The description of a smart group of people who are relied on for expert advice reminds me of Brain Trust and the scenarios in which that has been used.

The name has also been applied in other contexts – for example, an iteration of the Philadelphia Phillies, and a short-lived TV show in the 80s.

Why I Looked It Up

From The Tyranny of Clichés:

Before then, in the 1960s, it was the Whiz Kids who held that modern economics was too complicated to leave to voters and consumers.

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