How John McClary Found the Elixir of Perpetual Efficiency
W. A. CRAICKMay11914
Eighty-four Years Old, Still at Helm
How John McClary Found the Elixir of Perpetual Efficiency
By W. A. CRAICK
IF one happens to be in the neighborhood of the big city plant of the McClary Mfg. Co. in London, at nine o’clock in the morning of any business day during the winter, he likely will see an old gentleman in a heavy fur-lined overcoat and derby hat step out of an automobile and with sturdy step enter the office building. Follow him up and it will be found that he mounts the stairs to the first floor and passes into a private office at the front overlooking the street. This office is no place of Turkish rugs and mahogany furniture. It is an entirely plain and commonsense apartment, showing signs of constant use. There are a couple of desks and two or three chairs, with portraits of Lord Roberts and the old gentleman himself on the wall.
Having divested himself of his overcoat, but still retaining his hat on his head, he stands forth, a stout figure of a man, rather over middle height and still fairly erect in bearing. The face, which is of a heavy cast, is clean-shaven.
He wears an ordinary pair of glasses and is dressed in a plain and democratic suit of grey.
His motions, as he passes from one part of the room to the other or sallies out into the big general office, are quite easy and rapid for a man of his years. In short there is about him an expression of alertness and keenness that challenges attention and lets the onlooker know that this man, who is of course John McClary himself is still a force to be reckoned with.
In a day when the stress and strain of business life wears out many a man before he is sixty, when there is so much talk about pensions, annuities and superannuation and when the control of great enterprises seems to be passing into the hands of a still younger set of men, the record of John McClary of London, the octogenarian manufacturer of stoves and tinware, affords an example of virility that is a welcome relief to the accustomed experience. For sixty-six years, with but a slight break, Mr. McClary has been engaged in business in the Forest City.
What manner of man is he who has thus been able for over half a century to direct the affairs of a large industrial plant? What has been the reason for his business success, what the secret of his continued physical strength and keen mentality?
The truth can be found in a study of the man himself. Concentration, foresight, the power to discriminate wisely, a proper regard for the laws of health conservation, are among the qualities which have enabled John McClary to remain an efficient executive head of a large corporation for sixty-six years.
The purposeful strength of the man does not manifest itself on a cursory glance. His typical pose seems to hint at relaxation rather than concentration. Among its other furniture the private office contains a capacious rocking-chair, swung well out into the middle of the floor. Into this comfortable piece of furniture the octogenarian manufacturer of stoves and tinware customarily thrusts himself, leaning well back, one leg crossed heavily over the other. He rocks back and forth very gently, at times almost imperceptibly. With his derby hat pulled over his eyes, his large frame reclining at ease and his expression generally exceedingly solemn, he looks for all the world as if he had been lifted bodily
from the piazza or rotunda of some big hotel and placed in the middle of a business
The analogy however extends no further. From the depths of that self-same rocking chair there emanates a dynamic force that is still powerful to drive the huge industry that bears the McClary name. The body may lounge but the mind is alert and active.
It is focused on the task of keeping wheels running smoothly and preserving the prosperity of the business. The veteran’s interest is not confined to that of a superannuated manager, who is permitted a little diversion in the form of pretended supervision. It is a real and dominating influence, felt in all parts of the works.
With clearness and deliberation that makes repetition unnecessary John McClary dictates correspondence and memoranda to his secretary. He possesses a flow of language that would be the envy of many a less gifted business man, while his words are well arranged and his sentences quite grammatical. Customarily he sits with a pad on his knee on which, as he dictates, he draws all manner of hieroglyphics; occasionally he makes notes in a hand which is almost undecipherable, for penmanship was never one of his strong points.
Of course, while it is true that his personality still dominates the great industrial mechanism and his word continues to be all-powerful, a large proportion of the detail of management has been handed over to Lieut.-Colonel Gartshore, the Company’s vice-president and John McClary’s son-in-law. Colonel Gartshore has won the entire confidence of the founder of the business just as he has gained the esteem of all his business associates, and to him must be attributed a great deal of the prosperity of the industry during recent years. Mr. McClary’s present interest is confined very largely to the financial end of the company’s affairs, though he keeps an eye on all departments of its activity.
His punctuality has become proverbial. Precisely at nine o’clock every morning, he climbs out of the automobile which has brought him from his house to the general offices of the company and goes upstairs to his room. Exactly at eleven o’clock he leaves for home. The stroke of three sees him back again at his desk and at four-thirty to
the minute his day’s work, so far as the office is concerned, is done. He sticks to this routine with the utmost regularity and will not alter it except for the most important reasons. It is also a part of his established programme to walk through the works every morning and make a personal inspection of everything that is going on.
John McClary is proud of two things. One is the success of the business undertakings, to which he has devoted his life. The other is his family connection. The McClarys are an old family, whose ancestry, thanks to the veteran’s fondness for working out genealogies, has been traced back for many centuries. On the paternal side he is the descendant of a Scotchman who came to America many years before the Revolutionary War. His grandfather, who took part in the War on the American side, married a grandniece of John Adams, the second president of the United States and through her was related to John Quincy Adams, the sixth president. His father, John McClary, Sr., was born in New Hampshire in 1784 but moved to Pennsylvania in early life and there engaged in the lumbering business. He married Miss Sally Clark, a descendant of General Stark of Revolutionary fame, and had a family of twelve children, of whom John McClary, Jr., was one of the youngest members.
In 1813, during the war between England and the United States, the Pennsylvania lumberman had the misfortune to lose a large cargo of timber; which was seized and burned by the English. The disaster crippled him financially and he determined to move to Upper Canada and there seek to restore his fortunes. He accordingly transferred his household goods to the Township of Westminster in Middlesex County and settled near the village of Nilestown, where he carried on the joint occupations of farmer and lumberman. At the parental home on January 22, 1829, the present John McClary was born.
The great adventure of John McClary’s life took place w^ien he was a young man twenty years of age. He had left home two years previously and had apprenticed himself to a tinsmith in London, under whom he learned his trade. The excitement of the great gold rush of 1849, however, captured his fancy and he set off for California. He traveled by the Panama route, a circumstance which doubtless accounts partially for his present keen interest in the Panama Canal, and, arriving in San Francisco, decided to set up as a tinsmith. He opened a small shop and remained in business with varying success until a terrific conflagration destroyed the greater part of the city and reduced his premises to ashes.
At a loss to know what to do, he was persuaded by a couple of friends to accompany them to the diggings. The account of this expedition as related by himself is full of intense human interest. The trio had to tramp many miles on foot, carrying their belongings on their backs. After enduring many hardships and being almost worn out with fatigue,
they reached their goal. But luck was against them. It just required three days to convince them that the enterprise was hopeless. In those three days and in Mr. McClary’s own words they did not find ten cents’ worth of gold, and being unable to maintain themselves on such small scrapings, betook themselves back to the Coast. John McClary did not remain longer in California. He returned to London and resumed the occupation which had been interrupted by the wildgoose chase to the gold fields.
It was now that the firm of J. and O. McClary was formed in a very humble way, the returned gold seeker being joined by his brother Oliver. Their first undertaking was the manufacture of tinware. John superintended the industry, while Oliver set out to peddle the products of their small factory, through the country. Those were the halcyon days of peddling and peddlers with their carts were familiar figures on the country roads. Soon the business began to expand and presently the brothers had set up no fewer than forty of these oldfashioned commércial travelers. Then to their output they added ploughs and for a time produced large quantities of implements. At last they made their most important departure by undertaking the manufacture of stoves.
To relate in detail how the business developed from very small beginnings to its present important proportions is unnecessary. Growth was the outcome of hard and persistent work. Neither of the brothers dissipated their energies in other directions. Society had no charm for them and social ambition was not in their line. They lived plainly and most abstemiously, devoting all their attention to the progress of their business. John McClary, though younger than Oliver, took the lead and, being shrewd and far-sighted, carried along the growing enterprise with great success. Today surviving his brother by several years, he can look forth and see two immense manufacturing plants humming with industry and giving work to over 1,200 hands; large warehouses, filled with the products of these factories, situated in all the chief trade centres of Canada; and a fine, well-built city surrounding his works and called into being largely as a result of his endeavors. Surely no mean achievement this for any man.
To-day, John McClary, fourscore and five years old, is just as plain-living and unpretentious a man as was that young John McClary, the tinsmith’s apprentice, sixty odd years ago. He may be proud of his achievements and of his descent, but this pride does not exhibit itself in any manners of superiority or attitude of greatness. He is to the workmen in his factories, just “Old John,” and among the older employees at least, he is on terms of personal friendship.
Quite a typical incident of his thoughtfulness of others, is related. Recently an addition was put up to one of the plants. John McClary recalled that an old carpenter who had helped to build practically all the buildings occupied by the company, was confined to his house unable to do any more work. It occurred
to him that it would please the old artisan to be remembered on this occasion. He accordingly sent his motor for the old man, brought him to the new building and had him drive a few nails, so that he might be able to say that he had taken part in building every part of the
Incidents such as this might be multiplied. Perhaps in no other industry in Canada has welfare work been so much emphasized as in the McClary plants in London and while Colonel Gartshore deserves much credit for its elaboration, yet without John McClary’s interest and support, the present splendid system could hardly have been developed. He has shown a real concern for the wellbeing of his employees and in endeavoring to keep the flow of work at an even level, alike through periods of prosperity and depression and through summer and winter, has done much to maintain them in comfort and prosperity. He has always adopted the principle that so long as a man is doing his best, his efforts will be appreciated.
Wrapped up as he has been in his business, he has had no time and little inclination for social intercourse. He is not a club man, has never gone actively for politics and has taken no part in sport. His sole diversion is a game of cards and to card-playing he is strongly addicted.
Transportation is probably Mr. McClary’s pet subject, because it concerns his business most nearly. He will discuss the effect of the opening of the Panama Canal, the enlargement of the Welland Canal or the widening of the Erie Canal, with intimate knowledge of the situation, and in the recent agitation in London for the electrification of the London and Port Stanley Railway, he was a tower of strength to those who favored the scheme. Not only in speeches, mostly to mass meetings of his employees, but also through letters to the press, did he make his opinions known.
Mr. McClary no longer takes any exercise but he makes up for this lack by frequent massages. To this treatment he attributes his continued good health, which is really a matter of remark in one of his years. He also contrives to sleep a good deal and is so regular in his habits that he is like some well-balanced machine.
There is an attribute of John McClary’s which commends him to all with whom he comes in contact, and that is his laugh. He has the heartiest laugh that one could well imagine. It bursts out at the mention of some amusing incident and resounds through the whole office. So entirely spontaneous is it that one can scarcely mark its coming. At one moment the heavy face will be immobile. Next instant the eyes will twinkle and out will come the almost boisterous laughter. He is a man who is quick to grasp the funny side of a situation and who thoroughly enjoys a good joke, which may be another reason for his longevity.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.