Back in 1981, the people at Household International still thought of General Motors in terms of cars, not credit cards. The finance company was just entering the card business by acquiring Valley National Bank of Salinas, Calif., with some 15,000 accounts.

There was no clue that 15 years later, Household would be the seventh- largest credit card issuer, largely on the strength of its marquee product, the General Motors MasterCard.

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