Hosmer Makes Directing a Business

J. HERBERT HODGINS August 15 1924

Hosmer Makes Directing a Business

J. HERBERT HODGINS August 15 1924

Hosmer Makes Directing a Business


AT THAT bend of the river St. Lawrence, where you leave Lake St. Frances and dip

down the chain of rapids to overcome which the Soulanges canal was dug, is Coteau Landing. Its whitewashed cottages set it apart from neighboring Ontario towns as characteristically French-Canadian. It is one -of those sleepy hamlets which decline to respond to modernity. Coteau Landing was probably as large and important before Confederation as it is now or ever will be. A more humdrum setting could scarcely be ................nun pictured. 1

Yet from Coteau Landing came one of Canada’s foremost men of business and finance—which is not infrequently the anomaly of unpretentious towns. It was here that Charles Rudolph Hosmer began life. Many another man of achievement, it is true, started life equally humbly; few, however, have had more of romance woven into the fabric of their lives. And, after all, it is not the start but the course and the finish with which we must reckon in life. The twelve-year-old Charlie Hosmer swept a junction station-house and cleaned kerosene lamps as his daily chore, but he kept his eyes—and his ears—upon the job ahead. At his work, he “listened in” to the intermittent clicking of the telegraph key in the old Grand Trunk Railway station and, studying by night, he quickly learned the Morse code. That was the beginning. It was that delicately poised instrument and its connecting wires from the great outside world that brought the romances of big business to the lad of Coteau Landing. Because, ultimately, Hosmer built the C.P.R.’s world-

encircling telegraph system to international importance. Three of the Old Guard of the C.P.R. are still active in Canadian affairs. The Old Guard! . . . that group of men to whom was given the task, the joy of helping to shape the Dominion’s early destinies! Strathcona, Mountstephen, \an Horne, Angus, Shaughnessy, are gone. But there is Sir Herbert Holt, who helped to build the C.P.R., and still helps to run it. There is I. G.

Ogden, who put the first coins in the cash box, when he was the company’s only accountant and who to-day, as vice-president in charge of finances, supervises the company’s millions. And there is C. R. Hosmer, who made of its telegraph system a vital, international unit and who, after twenty-five years, like the late R. B. Angus, prides himself upon the regularity with which he attends Board meetings, as a director of the railway. Inspecting with Van Horne FTOSMKR has always liked to keep a close eye upon the transcontinental’s physical progress and, for this reason, has been a frequent traveler across Canada, upon official inspection tours. Back in the days when Sir William Van Horne was president of the C.P.R., Sir William and Mr. Hosmer made a trip west, together. They passed through Toronto, at an early hour, but, during the short stop at Parkdale station, an enterprising newspaper reporter encountered Sir William, as '■ie special train was about t'; p'll! out The reporter

was successful in getting only a brief interview with him. "Oh, by the way, Sir William,” called the reporter as the president was climbing into his private car, “are any of the directors with you on this trip?” “You might say I am accompanied by Mr. C. R. Hosmer,” replied Van Horne.

C. R. Hosmer’s Precepts: Nés ver take your business worries to bed with you. No truer thing was ever said: you cant fit a round peg into a square hole. If you don t love the work you are doing, you will never make a success. ' The process of elimination is constantly creating positions for men who, by dint of application and study, have fitted themselves to fill them, Mere accumulation of wealth cannot bring enjoyment to any properly constituted mind; but there is satisfaction in using wealth for promotion of things that add permanently to the world's progress.

“Mr. C. R.--who?” pursued the newspaperman. “Hosmer—C. R. Hosmer,” repeated Sir William. Either through a reportorial or typographical error, the name appeared in the Toronto papers as “Mr. C. R. Hosser, a director of the C.P.R.” When Hosmer’s attention was drawn to the mistake, Sir William, who was standing near, twitted, “Never mind, Hosmer, it is merely a ‘hos’ of another color!” But the error, as errors have a habit of doing, became

a more glaring one. The item was telegraphed out of Toronto and the name appeared in a western newsR. Hoss.”

paper as “Mr. C. R. Hoss.” Ihstead of showing pique, which many might have, under similar circumstances, Hosmer laughed outright —none enjoy a rare bit of nonsense more than he— and forestalled Van Home. “This time,” he cried, “the editor forgot to put a tail on your ‘hoss’!” Can a man lay aside his particular

job and make a business of “directing”? Hosmer did. He stopped working for the C.P.R., upon a salary basis, and became a “professional” executive. It is a “profession” which modem conditions have glorified. The evolution of business, into the vast, highly capitalized corporations, popularly dubbed as “Big Business,” has demanded superexecutive minds, men with the ability quickly to think in millions, where the average man is capable of thinking only in hundreds and thousands. Such a man is Hosmer. To-day he is president, vice-president, or director, of more than twenty Canadian corporations and thus a directing mind over invested capital with a combined total approaching $750,000,000. Physically speaking, he toils not; neither does he spin, but it would almost appear that his mental powers were called upon to work overtime. Yet— “But I never take my business worries to bed.” This keynote probably discloses the secret of that self-made success. Mr. Hosmer, in his talk with me, was disposed to stress the need of a constant, a studious application to one’s work but he was equally willing to concede that business must not be

permitted to exclude all else. “Man cannot work day and night; he should throw aside his business worries when evening comes,” he insists. And I find that even in his youth, Hosmer “threw aside” his routine of the day but he profited the evening hours by study, which to him became a recreation. Invariably I recall jolly King Cole when I think of Hosmer. He seems to personify my youthful reactions to that jocund character of Mother Goose. Hosmer is short of stature, round and

short of stature, round and jovial. He radiates geniality. There is a merry twinkle in his eyes. Sir William Van Horne regarded “personality”—that illusive, indefinable element which may make or break a man—as one of Hosmer’s best assets. But Hosmer is by no means saccharine. Beneath his smiling geniality exists a sense of power, a firmness of decision. Outwardly cordial in welcoming you to an interview, he can be firm—tactfully firm—in terminating that interview. Not long ago, I heard a man thus describe Hosmer’s interview methods: “ ‘Well I am glad you came,’ said Mr. Hosmer, obviously closing our interview. His hand came down upon his desk with a decisive slap. Then he put it out, in a farewell gesture, as he said, ‘Good morning, sir.’ It was over in two minutes. I was out of his office and he was back at his work. But, somehow, I did not realize that I had been dismissed. It was all so gracefully done. “But you need not worry about your proposition; if it is sound business, and fair, Hosmer will not forget it.” Continued on page 55

Continued from page 16

Men who sit around directors’ tables with Charles R. Hosmer remark his quickness of decision—an alert quickness. “You’ve simply got to hand it to the ‘old man’,” said one of them. His is not the keen, analytical mind which delves into balance sheets but he has an old-fashioned “horse sense” which has invariably stood him in good stead. He may have made losses in his commercial and industrial adventuring! Show me the man of big business interests who has not. But the losses of his speculative years clearly sobered his later judgment. To-day he likes nothing more than conservative tolerance, and that is why he feels an especial pride in his native province. “I pride myself that I was born and have lived all my life in Quebec,” he said not so long ago. “It is the most sane and most tolerant province in our Dominion.”

Hosmer makes no mystery of his life success. So far as it is given to a man to analyze his own progress, Hosmer will discuss with you the elements that make for material achievement. But his manner is so completely impersonal that you forget he is the subject under discussion.

It so happened that Grant Hall, physically rugged and mentally resourceful vice-president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, gave a talk to the McGill University Commercial Society, the evening before I last had occasion to see Mr. Hosmer. The Montreal Gazette, with the report of Hall’s address lay on Hosmer’s desk when I entered his office. He was quick to draw my attention to Hall’s advice to the alumni.

“Read that,” he urged, tapping his ' finger upon the printed page.

“Select something you like for your life work,” was the railroad vice-presi-

dent’s counsel to those young men about to embark upon life’s great adventure. “There are a good many tragic things in this world,” he went on, “but I do not think there is anything quite so tragic as the round peg in the square hole;

“Get something you like. Then you will develop yourself from that.”

Hosmer looked up, the keen look in his eyes that comes when he gets down to brass tacks. “No truer thing was ever said,” came from decisive lips. “My advice to the young business man, summed up, would be none other than this: if you find you are a round peg in a square hole, get out of it. If you do not love the work you are doing, you will never make a success of it. The sooner you try something else, the quicker you may hope to succeed.”

Process of Elimination

IT WAS Hosmer’s constant application to the job in hand which fitted him for the promotions as they came along, in the “process of elimination,” and study that qualified him to hold what he was given.

“To what, in particular, do you attribute your rapid promotion to positions of responsibility and trust?” I asked him.

“Circumstances, and the process of elimination,” was the cryptic reply, which with urging, he expanded: “Elimination goes on continually,” he explained. “Men at the top die, get too old for the job and resign, or otherwise leave vacancies for the members of the next generation, who have made themselves capable of filling their shoes. The process of elimination is constantly creating positions for men who, by dint of application and study, have fitted themselves to fill them.” The twelve-year-old Hosmer received

a pittance as his weekly wage. He was probably paid all that, economically, he was worth; his job demanded no responsibility. We find, as we travel along in life, that the measure of our material return, invariably, comes from the degree of responsibility we assume.

At the age of fourteen, young Hosmer knew enough of telegraphy to become the operator in the general store at Coteau Landing.

This general store was kept by a Mr. Pease. One of the storekeeper’s sons was Edson L. Pease. Hosmer taught telegraphy to Edson Pease and, when Hosmer left Coteau Landing, young Pease succeeded as operator in the store. Some time later Hosmer persuaded Edson’s parents to permit him to leave Coteau Landing and become a bank clerk in Montreal. Edson L. Pease rose through the banking ranks, to become general manager, and is to-day vice-president of the Royal Bank of Canada, of which Hosmer is the second largest shareholder.

A Stickler for Discipline

AT NINETEEN, Hosmer was Kingston, Ont., manager of the Dominion Telegraph Company. Later, he was appointed to Buffalo, N.Y., and, at the age of twenty-one, he was appointed superintendent of the system.

Then it was that Hosmer came to be known as a strict disciplinarian. Probably you would not sense it to see him to-day; it seems as though he must always have radiated geniality. Hosmer-in-the-making, however, was a stickler for efficiency. He studied to make himself efficient; he required efficiency, therefor, of others. His order, “No Bohemianism,” telegraphed to every man within his jurisdiction, compelled the operators to abandon the free and easy traditions of telegraphy and obey irksome precepts of a young, new chief.

Yet he laid down no discipline that he did not more strictly adhere to himself. Perhaps that is why Hosmer, in spite of insistence upon discipline, won the hearts of his subordinates. A veteran telegrapher says that “generosity and patience in helping others” was one of Hosmer’s outstanding characteristics.

It is told of Hosmer that he would return to his office, after his own day was finished, to train others. Constantly studying new principles of telegraphy, he was invariably alert to put the theories of his study into practice. He seemed actually to enjoy developing new men, and hundreds of the last generation of telegraphers owe their first lessons and their first encouragement to him.

“He was the same ‘Charlie’ Hosmer, when he rose to higher positions—always ready to extend a helping hand, where it was needed, and always ready to do it, willingly,” the old-timer recounts.

When the Dominion Telegraph Company was absorbed by the Great North Western Telegraph Company, Hosmer left to organize the Canadian Mutual Telegraph Company, which was, in reality, the Canadian subsidiary of the Mutual Union of the United States. Hosmer managed this enterprise for five years,, demonstrating exceptional managerial capacity.

Van Horne Picks Hosmer

SIR William Van Horne, who chose the late Lord Shaughnes&y as purchasing agent and men, equally promising, for other important posts of the newlycreated Canadian Pacific Railway, was looking at this time for a man to head the telegraph system. He picked C. R. Hosmer. Why? Because that penetration, which erred only in' two or three notable instances, which was characteristic of Van Horne, told him the potential capacity of the man. Hosmer, too, Up to this point had proven his mettle on every job he had tackled.

Hosmer began his association with the C.P.R., at the age of thirty-five and, while he has advanced to one of the highest offices in the organization, a seat upon the directorate, and his increasingly diversified interests have grown to national importance, he has never completely abandoned his first love—telegraphy. His private offices are in the Canadian Pacific Railway Telegraphs building in Montreal; so to speak, he can pick up a telegraphic message at any time.

“As the years go by I do not seem to have lost my knowledge of telegraphing,”

he confit es. “The telegraph business has a certain fascination and an influence upon character, a broadening influence. It broadens one’s vision. For instance: a man working at one end of the wire in Canso, N.S., and talking to the operator in Vancouver, cannot help wondering what is going on in that district. The same thing occurs in England. In fact, life-long friendships are often made between men who are in this daily intercourse and, yet, who probably never meet in actual life.”

Hosmer rounded out the C.P.R. telegraphs in thirteen years, until the system linked both coasts of Canada and coupled up with international cables that circle the globe.

Hosmer effected the alliance with the Postal Telegraph Company and the Commercial Cable Company. Van Horne had been trying to link the C.P.R. Telegraphs with the Baltimore and Ohio Railway’s system. He did not believe in the “new-fangled notion” of stringing telegraph wires along the public highways. He wanted his U.S. connections to be with a railway system. Hosmer, on the other hand, saw the greater possibilities of a union with the Postal Telegraph system, which was then coming into prominence under John W. Mackay, and he went forward with plans for amalgamation upon this basis.

Van Horne fumed and fretted, until one day Sir George Stephen said to him, “You must have had some faith in Hosmer, when you put him in charge of your telegraph system!”

“Yes,” admitted Van Horne.

“Then, let him have his way.”

Sir William took the advice and the Postal Telegraph Company became the C.P.R.’s connection in the United States.

The Friendship with Mackay

THE negotiations between Hosmer and Mackay established a firm friendship between the two men. Later, Hosmer proved the tangibility of that friendship by an immeasurable service. Mackay encountered, in the United States, increasing opposition to his telegraph and cable schemes, with the result that his financing operations became more and more difficult. Hosmer undertook to find a market for the securities in Canada. To-day, with a public educated to investments, such an undertaking^ would_ be comparatively easy; Canadians, since the vogue for war bonds, have developed an appetite for healthy securities. But thirty years ago investment funds were by no means plentiful in this country. Canada was dependent upon capital from outside.

Hosmer is not lightly discouraged, however. He proceeded with characteristic vigor, lined up an influential following and the coup was established. The absorption of Commercial Cable and Postal Telegraph securities in Canada was one of the financing milestones of the last century. When the two companies were linked as the Mackay Companies, by which name they continue to be known, Hosmer became a vice-president. He retains that office and Canadian holdings of the company’s securities are still substantial.

During the time Hosmer was fabricating the C.P.R. telegraph system he was broadening the scope of his personal affairs. By 1899, when he was forty-eight years of age, his own business interests had become so extensive that he was compelled to resign from the telegraph company to direct his own affairs, more intensively. Simultaneously, he accepted appointment as a director of the C.P.R., a reward clearly his due, because of his remarkable triumph with the telegraph organization.

Brains and Capital in Demand

WHEN Hosmer quit the C.P.R.

Telegraphs, his proven business acumen and his capital were wanted for hundreds of pioneer propositions. He branched into commercial activity, becoming associated with Sir Herbert Holt and other promising promoters of new industry. Many of these experiments of twenty-five years ago, to-day span the country and vary from mining and flourmilling to paper-making and the development of hydro power.

Hosmer and Holt are a particularly interesting team. Hosmer dislikes digesting statistics. Holt is a genius at balance

sheets. Hosmer judges an enterprise by an inborn common sense; most men would call it acting on “hunches.” Holt, coldly calculating, specializes in concrete facts.

Hosmer’s interest, once awakened, quickens into enthusiasm. Take the case of Ogilvie Flour Mills. When the late W. W. Ogilvie, the great miller, died at the beginning of the present century, the remaining shareholders decided that the enterprise has grown beyond their capacity. They looked around for someone to continue the company’s development. F. W. Thompson, then western executive, was promoted to Montreal and it was he who induced Hosmer to assume financial control. Ogilvie was a domestic milling enterprise then; now it is international.' Under the shrewd combination of President Hosmer and Managing Director W. A. Black, Ogilvie has become one of the notable milling enterprises of the Empire. Hosmer brought to the company the brains of the experienced financier, and he found the practicalminded executives to run the machinery.

Yet Ogilvie is only one of the companies which Hosmer advanced to national status.

Hosmer’s counsels were sought for the Laurentide Company, since become one of the dominant paper concerns of the Dominion. Sir William Van Horne conceived Laurentide, far-seeing _ man that he was, and worked out its initial development with the great American politician-financier, General Alger. Hosmer because of his friendship with Van Horne participated almost from the company’s inception. The first years were years of financial struggle but the uphill part is now well in the background. Laurentide is the Cinderella of the “street.” The original stockholders now hold six shares of the present stock for each share of the first stock issue. And the present stock is quoted around par. In short, each original share, with a nominal value of $100, has now market value approximating $600.

British Columbia Ventures

HOSMER’S mining venture is now known as the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company. It is said that he keenly regretted, even protested, the passing of Smelters’ dividend, three years ago, because it broke the one hundred per cent, dividend-paying record of his concerns. Smelters is once more in the dividend ranks and Hosmer rejoices because it puts all his enterprises into the investment class.

Smelters, now controlled by the C.P.R. group of financiers, was to a considerable degree built up by Hosmer, versatile man that he is. He became interested in Rossland and West Kootenay, when these British Columbia mining camps were struggling for existence. He helped to amalgamate a number of mines and one smelter, under the Consolidated management and, later, one of his own creations, the West Kootenay Power and Light Company, was taken into the group.

Hosmer at Seventy-Three

CR. HOSMER, approaching seventy• three, looks and acts more like the average man twenty years his junior. He is nimble of mind and body. Yet he indulges in no strenuous exercise. He spends the summer season at his picturesquely located home at St. Andrewsby-the-Sea, New Brunswick, and enjoys above all else long motor rides into the country where natural scenery abounds. He finds reading the most effective way to divert his mind of business anxieties, and, like Woodrow Wilson, his preference in fiction is for detective or mystery yarns.

As an outstanding Canadian who has reached his three score and ten, in the possession of full vigor and mentality of ordinary men at their prime, Hosmer was asked what he deemed the most satisfactory accomplishment of a world experience.

“To be able to enjoy life, and to help others enjoy it,” he replied, promptly.' “The mere accumulation . of wealth cannot, surely, bring enjoyment to any properly constituted mind; but there is an intense satisfaction in using wealth for the promotion of things that add permanently to the world’s progress, and help lighten the every-day problems and burdens of humanity.”