You Can’t Pound a Cement Man to Jelly!
A lawsuit started Frank P. Jones, of Canada Cement fame, on the path to national eminence.
ONCE upon a time—to be more exact in the year 1906—I happened, in my capacity as financial editor of the Montreal Daily Star, to become deeply involved in a lawsuit. This was no ordinary lawsuit. It was (if there is such a word) a “humdinger.” It was a battle of giants. It was the greatest, most dramatic, industrial contest of wealth and wits Canada has ever seen. The stake involved was $15,000,000—which was a lot of money in 1906, as it is now, in spite of the fact that Canada has become accustomed to the habit of juggling with two or three hundred million dollar issues of Victory bonds.
The contestants in the battle were the Dominion Steel Company and the Dominion Coal Company, both of Sydney, Nova Scotia, two Kilkenny cats who could not live in peace and quiet, side by side.
As a matter of fact, peace actually reigned for a short space of time. Then, one fine day, the newspapers printed, beneath small, single line headings, an innocent little item, under a Sydney date-line, to the effect that the coal company had refused to deliver any more coal to the steel company. Biff! Bang! The fat was in the fire.
It happened in this way. There was a contract between the two concerns which called upon the coal company to deliver coal to the steel company in sufficient quantities to keep the furnaces in operation. Frank P. Jones, however, as manager of the Dominion Steel Company, was not altogether satisfied with the quality of the coal he was getting. Not infrequently he bitterly complained about it. Then, one fateful day he refused to accept a certain shipment which, he contended, was not suitable for the making of steel.
“All right,” said the late James Ross, president of the Dominion Coal Company (not exactly in those words, but words to this effect), “your refusal to accept our coal terminates the contract between us.”
Minus coal the steel company was crippled: so the steel company entered an action for $15,000,000. The mighty legal battle was bitterly fought out before Mr. Justice Longley in the court house at Sydney, and as I have already intimated, it was a genuine contest of frills and thrills.
I wish I had space to tell the whole story of that fight so replete as it proved to be with recurring dramatic, sensational twists and turns. But it is a long story.
The first round was fought in Sydney. Round two was fought in Halifax before the Sufeme Court of Nova Scotia, with the third and final round decided in England by three noble Lords and a “Sir,” comprising the Judicial Committee of His Majesty’s Privy Council.
The stocks of both the steel and coal concerns were actively dealt in upon the Montreal Stock Exchange and they see-sawed all over the lot.
As a financial editor I not only wrote many columns about them, but, having a contract with Lord AtholI 0
stan, the owner of the Montreal Daily Star, which permitted me to express \
whatever opinions I happened to fancy, I threw the Star's fate in with the steel side of the argument. Then, I not only went at it hammer and tongs, but instead of accepting an invitation to pass my holidays playing golf with a ïriend at St. Andrews, N.B., went to Sydney with the idea of bombarding the Star's readers with reports of the trial.
There, in the crowded court house at Sydney, sat the greatest galaxy of Canadian legal talent money could command; and heaven only knows how much money those lawyers eventually got. Flanking the lawyers on opposite sides of the court room sat rows of ladies—the wives, daughters, sisters, cousins and aunts of the battling clans. The ladies sat there day after day, and some of them “glared” at one another across the court room, for feeling ran high in the city of Sydney in the month of July, 1906.
Massed in the centre benches behind the lawyers and facing the judge sat the hoi polloi, the multitude or populace, also full of fight and burning emotions.
Near his legal talent, sat the late James Ross, the president of the coal company—rugged, massive-browed, forceful, dominating, one of the richest men in Canada, and a great constructive genius. Able, versatile, resourceful, his powerful personality not only inspired his friends and employees with sincere affection, but he stimulated them with a great fighting spirit. In a battle such as this, with his back against the wall and the life
of his company at stake, he struck sledgehammer blows.
J. H. Plummer, the president of the Dominion .Steel Company replied to these blows with rapier-like thrusts, for Mr. Plummer was resourceful too, and also inspired the fighting spirit, and was then, and is still a man l admire tremendously. He is now seventy-six years old and, may I say in parenthesis, I had a letter from him the other day in the most beautiful handwriting I have ever seen. It was like copper plate, but best of all the letter was painstakingly punctuated with commas, colons and semi-colons, all in their proper places—something unusual in these happy-go-lucky, slap dash, bustling days.
ARDENT DEVOTEE OE THE “ROYAL AND ANCIENT
FfiáNÜ P. JONES "
THE GREAT CEMENT BUILDING
WHICH THEY THOUGHT WOULD JONES’ TOMBSTONE,
— BUT IT 15NT •
The case opened with a flourish of trumpets, and, hands down, the coal side drew first blood.
The steel people put up the late Sir William Van Horne as their first star witness. It was an unfortunate move, for the doughty Sir William proved sadly out of his element when bound by the restrictions imposed upon the occupant of a witness chair. Incessantly badgered by the rapid fire coal lawyers he not only became thoroughly exasperated, but completely lost his temper, and there was a gasp in the court room, followed by death-like silence, as, in a moment of supreme exasperation, Sir William made a serious charge against Mr. Ross.
That night the coal crowd joyfully celebrated, for the news went around that Sir William, repentant, would make a complete retraction of his charge the next day.
I met two jubilant coal lawyers in the Sydney hotel. One of them said: “Williams, there will be a triple funeral to-morrow—the corpses will be the Dominion Steel Company, Frank Jones and your old Montreal Star. When that ‘fresh alec’ Jones gets on the stand, we’ll rip him to ribbons, and pound him into a jelly. Either that or we’ll chop him into mincemeat.”
The next day was destined to be the greatest day of Frank Jones’ life, for, when he stepped from the witness stand at the end of a hectic, tumultuous session, the telegraph wires had flashed the news of his evidence far and wide, and he had become a national figure.
Four of the ablest cross-examiners in Canada confronted the young witness. As I recall some impressions of the witness that day his lips were set perhaps more tightly than usual, his face was perhaps paler than usual, his strikingly high, thoughtful brow perhaps a little more wrinkled. Well, they faced him all day long. They jumped and leaped at him, gestured wildly, purred softly, shouted and raved. They tried every legal knockout blow under the sun, lamentably failing at last to make even so much as a dent upon his impenetrable guard.
Frank P. Jones as a witness, had the knack of convincing the judge and the spectators that a lot of the questions asked him were too foolish to command a serious answer. His lightning intellect would sometimes answer a question before the lawyers had time to ask it.
“My Lord,” shouted one purple-faced lawyer, addressing the judge, who, with poorly concealed amusement, was viewing the slaughter of the coal company’s legal talent, “I most solemnly object to the way the witness is answering these questions.”
“I don’t know what you can do about it,” said the judge with a lurking grin, “because it is now very evident to me that this witness is not susceptible to the usual bull-dozing methods.”
The judge was right. Before the day was over the witness was almost cross-questioning the lawyers, the place was in an uproar, and one spectator had to be ejected from the room because he became hysterical.
In the court, in the corridors, going down the steps, out on the street, in the hotel, there was one name on the lips of the buzzing crowds—J ones—J ones—J ones.
The coal victory of the day had suddenly been turned into their Waterloo.
Having gone thus far, the temptation to continue my story is great, but the celebrated case must be summarized^ in a few words. I will only add that after two long, weary years of sordid clashing of arms, Plummer, Jones and steel won in all three courts. In the ultimate however, the loser won; Mr. Ross sold his coal interests to the steel company for an amount of money that added greatly to his already ample fortune.
What About That Pen-Knife?
I HAVE met those who knew Frank Jones before I met him in 1906, and they have told me that, at an early stage of his career, he either invented or was manufacturing a penknife that was to revolutionize the pen-knife industry, and put the other pen-knife makers flat upon their backs, out of business. I have intended a dozen times to ask him about that wonderful pen-knife but have completely forgotten to do so. Some day, though, I shall enquire and perhaps it will make a second instalment for this sketch of an interesting personality.
In the big steel works at Sydney, Jones was a great executive, and, in addition, he slaved from early morning until late at night. He was frequently too busy to eat and very often too busy to sleep. No man ever worked harder than Frank Jones worked at Sydney. There were days when he lost all sense of time in his desire to overcome his countless tasks and obligations.
Then, one time, there was a great strike of steel workers and some of the men, inflamed by liquor, made ugly threats to “get” Jones, and “get him good.” Jones, knowing of these threats would, late at night, walk a mile or more from the steel plant to his home, along a dark, lonely road, alone and unarmed; along a road, infested with workers, brooding, drunken, vindictive, whispering, carousing. Sometimes they almost lurched against him in the ominous shadows.
Now, fate or destiny—or whatever one wants to call it ■—brought to Sydney, while the big lawsuit was in progress, a young man who claimed Newcastle, N.B., as his birthplace.
The young man was frail of body, but he had an abnormally large head, and on top of the head rested a yachting cap about three inches too small. They didn’t make yachting caps that young man’s size!
I was introduced to the young man and they told me his Continued on page 63
You Can’t Pound a Cement Man to Jelly!
Continued from page 25
name was Aitken. I had never heard of him, but he said he had heard of me. That is a good joke! I may at that time have been more widely known than he, but not now, because that young man’s name at present is Lord Beaverbrook, and H. G. Wells has just said that he has one of the brightest minds in England, and Arnold Bennett has just included him in his list of the six greatest living Britons. Apart from all that, he is a premier-maker, as Asquith and Lloyd-George can testify, and Andrew Bonar Law also would testify were he alive.
.. JounS Aitken at that time had made a j little money in a deal in Halifax and had blown a portion of the proceeds in a schooner. Hence the yachting cap! A couple of years later he turned up in ■ Montreal. I went to see him and he gave me permission to tell the Star readers that he had bought the Montreal Trust 1 Company. In a short time his great conI structive exploits were the talk of the country, for he made news about as quickly i: as the newspaper men could write it.
it was not long before Aitken was busy on the herculean task of creating the Canada Cement Company and when it "as formed he said to me one day:—
I m going to get the brightest business :ttan m Canada to run the Cement Com-
pany. What’s your guess? Who is he?” “Frank Jones,” I said.
“Right,” said Aitken. And Frank Jones came to Montreal.
Acid Test of Constructive Work
THAT the Canada Cement Company is one of the country’s greatest industrial enterprises, and has been a huge success is of course well known. But let us propound a question: Would the Canada Cement Company have been a success without Frank P. Jones? Well, it might have been a moderate success, but not the great success it really is. That’s my answer.
This is how the late Senator W. C. Edwards of Ottawa, for many years president of the Canada Cement Company, once answered the same question: “Canada Cement stock is selling ’at eighty dollars a share. Without Frank Jones it would not now be worth five cents. He has builded so well it will keep going up after he retires and that is the acid test of real constructive work.”
If genial, lovable Senator Edwards were sitting here writing about Frank Jones, he would fill these columns with countless superlatives, for he loved Jones as David loved Jonathan, and he thought
that the business man never lived who was the equal of the man who made the Canada Cement Company. He ranked Jones and Sir Wilfrid Laurier in a class by themselves. He thought the sun rose and set upon both of them.
Aware of this, a grinning friend said to Jones one day: “Frank, if you could buy yourself in at the price I think you’re worth, and sell yourself at the price old Edwards puts on you—well, you could make a billion dollars.”
I have mentioned his lightning intellect. Well, you start to tell Jones about a deal or a proposition, and his mind travels ahead of yours, and he snaps out his decision before you have finished your story. This is disconcerting sometimes, and occasionally it makes you a little mad. But what is the use of being annoyed? He has made up his mind and a team of horses, or a charge of dynamite (or whatever it is that changes decisions) will not make him waver. When he says “yes” he means yes, and his “no” means no. If he decides to do something, he does it, and usually he does it just a little better than the other fellow could do it, which, of course, is the secret of success.
Early in the war some of our talented steel manufacturers were getting an unholy profit making shells for the Government. Jones, pulling intently at his everlasting pipe, looked the shell game over, decided the price which the Government was paying was a crime. He hopped on a train for Ottawa and told the Government he would make and sell shells for much less money than the other boys were doing it—and hearing that statement the shell makers yelled “murder.” Fervently they told the Government that Frank Jones was not only crazy, but “clean off his bean,” and that he could not make good his absurdly foolish claims.
But Jones made good, and he saved this country millions of dollars, which, I think, is one of the biggest things Frank Jones has done. Later he went to Ottawa and worked for $1.00 a year, along with Sir Joseph Flavelle, Fred Southam and a host of others and did fine work. That was his contribution to his country.
Writing Off By Chunks
IN THE financial world Jones enjoys a reputation for being safe, sound and conservative and in building up the Canada Cement Company he supplied a splendid model for all other concerns to follow. Do you know, good reader, what a “write-off” is? Well, Jones is a master of the write-off. He not only writes off money for depreciation, but writes it off in “chunks.” If some industrial concerns which come out with fancy looking annual reports kept their books the way Jones keeps his books, they would not show their bond interest earned.
When Jones took hold of the Canada Cement Company the various properties were valued in the books at $27,134,000. They are valued now at $26,169,000. Well you say—what about it? What is there to that? That’s nothing. But it is, especially when you are informed that he has doubled the capacity of his plants and built the largest individual cement mill in the British Empire. He writes in the value of all his plants to-day at less money than the old plants were valued when he took hold. That’s conservatism—-and Jones.
On the cement company directorate is a man who is at the head of the largest and best-known cement concern in the United States, a concern that turns out three times as much cement as the whole of Canada uses. He has a wonderful, efficient organization but when he comes to Montreal and compares his own figures with those of the Canada Cement Company he marvels greatly. The other day he said to me: —
“Jones is a corker—I don’t know how he does it. His costs are wonderful.”
And far be it from me to let Frank Jones escape without saying something about that imposing pile known as the Canada Cement building, facing Phillips Square in Montreal.
One day the business world was startled by the news that Jones would construct a massive all-concrete building up-town. Now, we all know that large office buildings pay a small return upon the investment and here was a man, the trustee of the cement shareholders’ money proposing to fritter away their good money by tying it up in a losing
proposition. The thing didn't look good. It wasn’t sound business.
If I remember correctly, I sent him a note something like this:
“Dear Frank—If you are going to build a monument to yourself, why not put it in Mount Royal Cemetery where monuments belong.”
Others wrote him notes in a similarly facetious strain. They also telephoned a lot of funny stuff—all of which Jones politely allowed to go in one ear and out the other. I remember this conversation: ‘‘Say, Frank, how much is your new building going to cost?”
“Over a million.”
_ “If you spent a million dollars advertising cement in the papers and magazines you could make people eat it as breakfast food.”
“Huh”—he did not trouble to waste his breath explaining the matter.
He happened to have a “hen on” that the critics did not see. He did not expect the building to pay as an ordinary building investment, but he expected it to pay in another way—and it did. The sájucture advertised the fact that solid concrete buildings, without steel beams, and made of great cement blocks, which look so much like real granite that you can not tell the difference, are a feasible proposition, and cheaper to construct than the real stone affairs.
His building went up and it looked good. In fact it looked so good that other people immediately began to put up the same kind of buildings and they used Mr. Jones’ well and favorably known cement, which was what he expected they would do. Seeing this the funny men took it all back and used either the mails or the telephone or made personal apologies to the man who conceived the idea of making money upon an office building.
Sometimes I feel like groaning to think that the Government could not bury politics ten miles deep and persuade men like Frank P.' Jones, J. W. McConnell, Sir Herbert Holt, E. R. Wood or J. H. Gundy to go to Ottawa, and become business managers of the country. What » “fist” they would make of the job! Why the Government would make money if it paid any one of them a salary of one million dollars a year! They would be cheap at any price. As for Jones, he would
jam through his great St. Lawrence River power scheme, develop and sell more than 3,000,000 horse power at $12, per h.p., and make the banks of the St. Lawrence one of the greatest bee-hives of industry in the world.
Only the Dollar’s Clink Makes Music
DUT with all his money and success, I feel sorry for Frank Jones. I can see him grinning broadly as he reads this. I have recently completed a novel, and here is an extract from it: -
“Now, there was a certain graduate of the University of Harvard who was Bach deaf, but here was a man Beethoven deaf, Chopin deaf, Gounod deaf, Verdi deaf, Caruso deaf, Scotti deaf, and what was worst of all (the worst affliction that could be visited upon any human being) Puccini deaf and Wagner deaf! What possible compensation could the Creator of the universe give a man who was sent into the world without the love for a single note of music?”
I was not thinking of Frank Jones when I wrote this. It referred to a disconsolate character in my story, but it applies equally to the subject of my sketch as it does to most of the great men in Montreal, who have achieved notable material success. These men are missing from the theatre as I look about me and the mighty leader, Leopold Stokowski, lifts his baton and his masterly orchestra carries us to a paradise, not far removed from heaven.
However, the afflicted apparently are not conscious of all they are missing, and Frank Jones is contented with his compensation which has taken the form of a deadly, incurable disease. He was stricken some four years ago, for one fine sunshiny day his system absorbed an XXX No. 1 hard, pure four-ply virulent golf microbe which got into his blood and multiplied at the rate of four billion a second. To-day he is happily weighed down with one of the worst cases of golfitis I have ever seen—or one of the worst cases anyone else has ever seen. Competent authorities, thoughtful members of the Royal Montreal and Mount Bruno Golf Clubs unanimously claim that, as a golf fiend, Frank Jones, the president of the Canada Cement Company, has the rest of the world ten down and eight to go.