"THIS ONE THING I DO”
J. L. RUTLEDGE
IT IS MORE than possible that before this issue reaches the reader, the appointment of P.
C. Larkin as Canadian High Commissioner at London will have been announced. There is a very general belief that the choice will fall on him, a very general opinion that the choice could not be more wisely made, and a wide-spread belief that he will accept. Thus P. C. Larkin, who is known as the head of a great business, and who, while a dominant figure in Liberal politics, has never sought political office, will at last become a political figure.
Mr. Larkin is more than the head of a great business. He is that business. It is made in his image, shaped according to his ideas, and bears everywhere the marks of his maybe dogmatic, bul certainly forceful and courageous, personality.
Mr. Larkin was a traveller for a Montreal wholesale grocery house. What sort of a traveller he was we have no record; all we know is that on a certain year that wholesale grocery firm quietly folded its tents and disappeared from the commercial map, leaving Larkin without a job.
With that lost job as a background, that at the time looked to him something like a catastrophe, young Larkin virtually lifted himself by his own bootstraps, until he had created the biggest business of its kind in the Western hemisphere, and made himself a fortune. While making this fortune he also made himself a man of varied interests, wide knowledge and catholic appreciations.
Refuses to Admit Failure
NOT THAT he did it, but how he did it, is the point of this story. And to give the reason, even the reason that is more or less patent to the casual eye, is a difficult thing without falling back on some trite old copy-book type of phraseology.
Mr. Larkin discovered what he believed to be a ' need, and he met that need with a commodity that he could and did and does take pride in, and he eternally boosted that product. He thought and talked and dreamed of it, and brought to its merchandizing a real initiative, and a dogmatic confidence in his own opinions, that has cost him some friends in his social life. Above all, he brought courage— an absolute refusal to admit the possibility of failure.
It is well enough to sit back now and think easily •f this great business, but it didn’t spring full-blown from anything. It was built and the building was not easy.
When Mr. Larkin, as a young traveller, faced the fact that his job had disappeared from under him, he certainly did not look on it as a kindly fortune. He hadn’t any capital, didn’t have until years later. He went to Toronto, and started in the wholesale grocery business on a small scale. It happened that about that time there was a sort of internecine war going on between the wholesale grocers and the sugar refineries. And certain of the wholesalers had so wounded the sensibilities of the refiners that they had been cut off the list and could get no sugar.
Young Larkin, just in the business, and the ink on his name on the wholesale list scarcely dry, bought sugar, and bought it plentifully, and made what in those early days was a comfortable little profit. But everything wasn’t sugar, and it didn’t take him long to realize that there wasn’t much in it. Besides, enthusiasm was one of his outstanding characteristics. He wanted something to be enthusiastic about, and it was difficult to be enthusiastic about all of’ the thousand and one items of the wholesale grocer’s list. But there was one thing, one thing he knew a great deal about, and that was tea. He could visualize something there, could see a chain of responsibility that would stand sponsor for a
quality from the tea garden to the tea drinker. That was virtually a new idea, an idea that was worth enthusing about, and so P. C.
Larkin drifted into the tea business, with the idea of responsible service always at the back of his mind.
There are plenty of men, e-en those not intimately associated with Mr. Larkin, who remember back to the thirty-odd years ago when he stepped out on this new trail. Even those who were merely lookers-on from the outside know that there were
times when the only reason that Mr. Larkin’s idea —for his business in those days was largely an idea—had not proved itself a failure, was that Mr. Larkin himself could not and would not see it. He had even at that time, a profound belief in his own judgment, and in his own views.
One who has known him well for very many years, states that if you converse with Mr. Larkin for any length of time you are absolutely certain to get into an argument. You have either to agree or argue. With Mr. Larkin, a judgment, a decision, an opinion, is not a light thing. It is his judgment or his opinion, and there is nx use denying the fact that he looks on it with marked favor for that reason, and will fight for it to the last ditch. It has its faults, this method. It leads to keen friendships and equally keen enmities. But as a business method it was just about what his particular business needed at that particular time. It needed someone to believe in it and fight for it long enough, and enthusiastically enough, to give it a chance. And that is precisely what it got, and that is the main reason it did not share the fate of that lamented Montreal wholesale firm.
Tooting Its Own Horn
T TOOK time to carry out the idea, the idea of responsibility. But he stuck to it, and as far as it was possible in those early days he did assume
responsibility for his product. lie put it in packages, and sold it by the package rather than the pound. That wasn’t an entirely new idea. Tea was being sold in that way by British houses, but the great volume of sale was in bulk form. There was some ground, too, for Mr. Larkin’s contention that there was no responsibility assumed for the quality of the article by the people who knew it best. Of course there were many reputable houses that did assume such responsibility, but there were also a large number who didn’t. It was left for Mr. Larkin to both do this and tell the world at large that he was doing it. And that also has been one of the outstanding factors in his success, that when the business had done something of which it was justifiably proud, it did toot loud and long on its own horn until the public as a whole were induced to Stop, Look, Listen—and buy.
Larkin had been playing pretty well a lone hand for some years, building a sound business, but building pretty slowly, when something happened that gave him the very opportunity he needed. The Ceylon Government found that the production of the island was exceeding their existing markets and, looking out for new fields, they thought of Canada. Mr. Mackenzie the representative of this government, coming to Toronto, was introduced to Mr. Larkin, who for all that he was still doing business, in a comparatively small way, had clearly demonstrated that he (needed only the opportunity and the necessary capital to step out into bigger things.
This agreement with the Ceylon Government gave him a prestige he had not had heretofore. It was not long after that the Indian Government had adopted a similar policy, and finally the Indian and Ceylon Governments were amalgamated and P. C. Larkin acted for both. It was perhaps his association with this India and Ceylon Association that led him into the American field that has been vastly the most profitable end of his business. The Association wanted a larger market, and between them they decided that the United States was the market. It wasn’t a tea-drinking country, hut Mr. Larkin figured that he could induce it to become enough to make it a good venture for both. The India and Ceylon Association were ready to spend some money to this end, but they were not ready to spend enough, so it became a personal adventure of Mr. Larkin’s, with what assistance this Association cared to give.
Again, it looks a simple enough matter to go out and capture the trade, considering it on a basis of the present strong position of the company that Mr. Larkin represents. But it must be remembered that things were not as rosy at the time this decision was made. The venture he anticipated meant cither success or failure. If the job he was undertaking proved too big for him, then not only his interests in it, but every last cent that he had gathered so hardly in his Canadian business, would he wiped out as well. It is not so hard to make a decision when there is much to gain and little to lose, but here there was everything to lose, with a possibility of train based entirely on a man’s confident belief in his product and in his ability to make others believe in it as he did. He took that chance—and won.
How was it done? As a matter of fact the actual mechanics of this successful venture were simple enoug’h. They were based on the same idea that he
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had started out with. The idea of responsibility that went right back to the tea gardens, and right forward to the tea drinker, and took charge right along the line, guaranteed every step, and made good every error. That wa3 coupled with a persistent and definite policy of telling the public about the product; and it is to be remembered that the effectiveness of advertising was not as generally appreciated in those days as it is now.
At the bottom it was a question of quality. Mr. Larkin himself says he paid moderate attention to other things, but vital attention to the upkeep of quality. “Quality is what makes for success.” There are people in the trade who will not go quite as far as Mr. Larkin in his enthusiasm for his product, but there is no one who will question that he gives the quality he advertises.
How He Picked a Trade Name
rHERE ARE people who still persist in thinking that there was some mysterious compulsion in the word “Salada” that made for his success. It is, as a matter of fact, as good a selection of nicely-distributed vowels and consonants, with a musical ring to them, as any other. It was as good but no better than many thousands of other words. It lived in obscurity as the name of a certain small Indian tea plantation, without enough force to bring that tea plantation any public .attention, until one day Mr. Larkin decreed that you couldn’t popularize in idea like India or Ceylon; that you seeded a word to tie advertising to, .nd, looking over a tea book, discovered this little insignificant plantation with a musical name. And the answer ,o the impression that the word had some mysterious ability to make business is the simple fact that it didn’t make the fortune of its original owners, while P. C. Larkin did most successfully use it to make his.
Now Mr. Larkin’s company claims to be the biggest tea company on the Morth or South American continent. It has great warehouses in Toronto, Boston, Montreal and New York, and offices throughout the United States, and in London, England, Colombo, and Bombay. It all started from an idea born only thirty odd years ago.
Mr. Larkin has built a great business, and an artificer is usually an artificer throughout. The creative impulse is going to touch the man somewhere. Mr. Larkin not only built a business but he built himself, and each development, whether of his business or himself, has been reflected on the ,ther. His business gave him the opportunity and the need to travel, and he has travelled extensively. He has been brought in touch with older civilization, has developed tastes and appreciations and understanding. It wasn't crammed into him in the -chools. He got it himself. It is reflected in his business. The great office buildings are probably the most unique :n the continent, because they bear the imprint of his personal tastes— carpeted with oriental rugs, with tapestry on the walls, oriental carvings in ebony, teak and sandalwood, with grotesque idols and goddesses, almost priceless works of art; little pieces of cloisonne and jade and lapis lazuli here, there and everywhere, on the desks of the clerks, on the fyling cabinets, everywhere. Mr. Larkin admits that some of his acquaintances call this taste effeminate; he admits it and does not care. Once he was showing a prominent bank official through one of his offices.
“But the cost, man, the cost!” ejaculated the banker.
“Cost, nothing!” said Mr. Larkin. “You bankers would spend as much on one of your pillars as we have spent on the whole thing, and it’s my idea that this is more worth while.” Mr. Larkin has a reason for his opinion, too. “ I don’t want my employees to feel that they are com-
ing to a prison, when they come to work. I want them to work in pleasant surroundings. I believe it is better and happier for them, and that means better service for me. I like beautiful things, and 1 fancy everyone else will like them if they get a chance.”
And so through all his offices in all his buildings there is this note of Oriental magnificence. “A bit garish,” some people, whose tastes run to the Spartan simplicity of unadorned flat tops, are wont to say. “Clean nutty,” say others in the colloquial terms of the day. Supposing you were to admit i .th charges. Nothing so very terrible, is it? Isn’t there something a little worthy of admiration, too, in the picture of a man studying his business not only as an absorbing game, or as a great struggle? Not only as an economic benefit or as a producer of wealth for himself and others, but studying all its outcroppings, knowing the lands from which his products come, and making it a life hobby to know and appreciate their art and culture ? “A bit garish,” we say, merely because we do not see them in an art gallery; but surely it is something also that he halt; an almost priceless collection of beautiful objects gathered by himself over a long period of years, as one of the great interests of his life, and they’re not locked up where no one can see them but himself, and • is immediate associates. It’s unusual, and some people may laugh at it a bit, but it’s a real idea anyway, and real ideas are rare.
During the past thirty years Mr. Larkin has been kept pretty close to his own business. There are, indeed, few businesses that are so definitely the work of the man at the head. Mr. Larkin has always been very definitely captain of the ship. For all that, however, it has not been his only interest, nor has he refused to give of his abilities to public causes. He was vicechairman, with Sir Joseph Flavelle as chairman, of the Tbronto General Hospital Board, when it was emerging from the cramped chrysalis in the east end of the city, into one of the finest hospitals in the country. Before these two men resigned the chairmanship of this great public service, after a service of seventeen years, a project involving upward of four million dollars was freed from debt. How much of this satisfactory result was due to the outstanding abilities of Sir Joseph, and how much to Mr. Larkin, no one is 'ikely to know, but it was a great
There has never been any hullabaloo about the work that these two men gave to the service of this great institution. There has been little if any mention of the amount of its great cost that was actually borne by them personally. So the world in general takes this work more or less for granted, but it was a great service for humanity given freely and without any blare of trumpets.
Mr. Larkin was one of the found-
ers óf the Ontario Liberal Club, and he has been a sort of rallying figure for the Liberal party for a decade past. He was the more influential a figure, because he was disinterested. He wanted nothing of position or profit, but only to give the absolutely unwavering allegiance that might be expected of a man of his character. One of the gracious things arising out of this allegiance was his friendship with Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Sir Wilfrid was a constant visitor at Mr. Larkin’s home on every visit to Toronto. It was a strange friendship, of men as far opposed in characteristics as it is possible to imagine, but it was a very real friendship. And it was left for Mr. igt;arkin, after many long years of intimacy, to pay one of the finest tributes to his chief that could ever be paid to mortal man: “I never heard him say an unkind thing against anyone in all the world.”
Years ago Mr. Larkin almost came in for some political prominence. He was appointed a representative for Canada on a Royal Commission to investigate the resources of the Empire. But before Mr. Larkin could get his trunk packed the election of 1911 very decisively removed the Liberals from power, and George Eulas Foster packed his trunk instead.
Some little time ago Mr. Larkin was at his Boston office, and one of the newspapers sent a young reporter to interview him. He came and saw Mr Larkin in his sumptuous Boston office, and returning, went to his city editor to enquire in an awed voice if all Canadian magnates dressed and lived like Oriental nabobs. Which suggests the thought that Mr. Larkin has the edge on almost any other business man in the matter of a business in London He can wear a morning coat and a silk hat without self-consciousness and without affectation, for it must be ar. intimate friend indeed who has seen him in any more frivolous garb.
If Mr. Larkin goes to represent Canada at London, he goes with a very distinctly Canadian ideal. He has probably done as much as the average man for the Empire and Imperial relations, but at heart he is a Canadian first. It is bred in bis bones and it is such an attitude that Canada’s representative at London should have.
When it is intended to send a mao to serve Canada it is the part of wisdom to send one who has served himself well. If a man cannot make a success of his own business it is highly improbable that he will do better for the government. Mr. Larkin took an idea of service and quality, and with hard work, enthusiasm and courage, built it into a great organization that made him a fortune, by giving a very real service to the public.
But more than that, in the same hard school of experience he found the time and the interest and the enthusiasm to develop appreciations, and in his own way to pass them on to those whose interests were associated with the business he controlled. What does it matter where he was born, or when? It is not what you were that matters, but what vou have become.