Making Motor Dreams Come True

J. HERBERT HODGINS September 1 1924

Making Motor Dreams Come True

J. HERBERT HODGINS September 1 1924

Making Motor Dreams Come True


George and Sam McLaughlin exemplify value of a successful “brother act.”

IN THOSE simple, picturesque days of forty years ago, when Ontario apples in the season were to be had for the picking, two lads of Oshawa ambled to school, their pockets a-bulging. At noon times, they lingered in their father’s factory, to chat with Harry, working away on the buggy bodies, to bicker, good-naturedly, with Dick in the blacksmithing shop. Dick always wanted an apple—which was all very well, as apples were plentiful and the boys were generous-dispositioned—but Dick, invariably, took the rosiest apple. So they put their heads together and when Dick took the reddest of their apples, next day, they chuckled, inwardly, because that apple was doctored; a square had been cut out, the space filled with two violent pills and the skin carefully replaced. To all outward appearances there had been no tampering with the fruit.

Dick was not in the blacksmith shop that afternoon, when school let out; Dick was ill and the lads felt they had had their “revenge.”

It was an innocuous, boyish prank, to be sure, and fortunately led to no untoward consequences.

But it marked the day when George W. McLaughlin, and his slightly younger brother, Sam, began to plan together. They have been planning ever since—and the outcome is one of the industrial epics of the Dominion.

George and Sam grew up together and for thirtyeight years worked together; and the other day when George gave up his position as general manager of sales for the General Motors of Canada, which he helped Sam create, Sam paused to remark: “No two brothers could have more fond respect for each other.”

Brothers in Business

TT IS not often that brothers pull well together in A business. There are those inexplicable traits in men which make brothers impossible of business assimilation; just as they split families in will contests. But George and Sam have run the gamut of their careers, side by side.

“When we were kids together, we got along famously because we had plenty of fights!” George McLaughlin explained to me that day a few weeks ago when, with something of a choke in his voice, he was bidding official farewell to the corporation that had known him from-its infancy. “In business, when we came to the hill, the traces tightened and we always managed, somehow, to pull over the top together.”

Sam McLaughlin is the impulsive type, the businessbuilder, always on his toes,” as modern sales managers want men under them to be. Sam is a typical go-getter. George is his brother’s antithesis, conservative, slow, perhaps, to decision—a balance wheel. He is the plain, unpretentious kind of man it does your old fashioned self good to find in these “too peppy” days, because they bring leaven to business.

I talked with an “old timer” of Oshawa, who has known the McLaughlin brothers since they were “fine, manly boys,” and the illustration he drew gave a subtle insight into the two men’s characters:

A civic canvass for funds for some worthy community enterprise was in progress. Sam was approached first and the reason for the campaign outlined.

“How much, five thousand dollars? Why, yes!” in a spontaneous way.

Then the collectors went to George.

George reviewed all arguments in a calculating manner, much as he would analyze any business project.

“...and then he burrowed deep,” as my informant succinctly put it.

Yet......together they gave

a wing to Oshawa hospital and a park, skirting Lake Ontario, to the community and, more recently, they stocked that park with buffalo.

Balancing a Partnership

DERHAPS these character*■ istics were the elements properly to poise that partnership of brothers. Sam led the way in their business adventuring, for Sam is brimming with initiative; George followed cautiously along. The need for caution was instilled into George in the earlv days of business intimacy with

his father, when business was slower going and collection difficulties were confronted.

George and Sam have never been known to disagree upon any vital question. Once, it is told, they came perilously near disruption and then, as when they were boys, they fought it out; in mental rather than physical encounter, however. The outcome of that “fight” was a resolve never to force a business issue in which they could not readily concur.

Sam has been the talker and the “mixer” of the brothers; George the listener. Sam’s “creative instincts” have impelled him to move about the country a great deal and in this tripping to New York, Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit he found his business inspirations.

And, ever, both men have been consistently motivated by the simple-minded, fine-purposed precepts of their father whose business creed from primitive days was crystallized in the one thought, which eventually became the firm’s slogan, “One Grade Only and That the Best.” “No business is greater than the men at the head of it,” in the opinion of Sam McLaughlin, “and our organization prides itself upon its honest dealings. We try to play fair with those from whom we buy and with those to whom we sell. This was the principle upon which the business was founded by my father. This was the principle inculcated in my brother and me, by him.”

The extent to which the elder McLaughlin put into practice his ideals of fair dealing is illustrated in the instance of Fred Hatch, of Whitby, Ont. Mr. Hatch was the first man who ever sold an order of goods to Robert McLaughlin at jobbers’ prices; for that act, he was put upon the company’s preferred list, where he has remained.

“Always stand by the old friends,” advises George McLaughlin, “they are tried and true.”

Swinging Over to the Motor

TT WAS Sam who swung the McLaughlin family into the automotive industry. It was Sam’s intuition, optimism, or whatever you would call it, Sam’s never-failing enthusiasm and aggression, which first sensed the trend of motor car development. Sam’s business mind, I take it, is like that of an up-and-doing realtor, who, opening a subdivision upon bald prairie, has unfolded before him the mental picture of a city of to-morrow.

Sam, himself, “blames” Oliver Hezzelwood’s automobile. Now Oliver Hezzelwood was the elder McLaughlin’s first bookkeeper, in the days of the McLaughlin business, when it was necessary— and financially con-

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Making Motor Dreams Come True

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tingent—that he “book-keep” for them, evenings and Saturday afternoons. Hezzelwood owned the first automobile in Oshawa, since become a Canadian centre of motor car production. It provoked curiosity, amusement and, finally, serious research. It was this variable-mooded, second-hand Olds, which finally brought the “vision” to the brothers. Sam convinced George and, together, they convinced their father.

Methods of Transportation

TT WAS 1907. Methods of transportation were showing signs of change. At least Sam McLaughlin thought he saw handwriting upon the wall. In the United States the motor car was gradually displacing the horse-drawn vehicle where speed was an essential, and so it became evident to Sam and. by Sam’s persuasion to George, that motor transportation was to become an important rival of the carriage business. Finally the logic of the sons and of Hezzelwood Prevailed; Robert McLaughlin,the fatherand the_ founder of the original carriage business, in his seventieth year gave to the motor venture his blessing—and Sam and George definitely assumed the burden of the company’s further physical development.

Sam’s imagination was kindled by his visit to the New York automobile show. There he saw what the motor car manufacturers of the United States were doing; there, too, he heard of the profits to be obtained from this new business, profits which made the operations of a carriage factory seem small indeed. It is told of Sam that he returned to Oshawa, and, in conference with his father and his brother, pictured the possibilities of the new industry. “The first year,” he argued, as he presented his estimates, “we will be making so and so, and the second year so and so and the third year. . . we’ll be ‘wearin diamonds’.”

The elder McLaughlin made no comment but he tucked away in the recesses of a keen mind the super-promise of his young son. Time went on and, as the motor enterprise of the McLaughlins progressed, it became more and more necessary to retire the company’s comfortable margins into the reserve fund for plant extensions. As a result, to all immediate outward evidence, they were “hard up” for actual cash, and the “Governor”, as they affectionately called him, never lost the chance to twit his son, “where are all the diamonds, Sam?” Literally they did not wear “the diamonds”; actually “the diamonds” were to be found in the reserves which were being strengthened, annually.

Quality and Responsibility

GEORGE MCLAUGHLIN began his business career, May 15,1885, sweeping the floor in the upholstering department of his father’s carriage works. He next picked the moss, which was used as cushion filling.

“And how dusty it was!” he reminisces. “I was obliged to wear a mask, with a sponge, to stop the dust.”

Then he moved on to the sewing, where he was attracted by the fine workmanship of the stitching and the finish—quality workmanship, which was his father’s business and fetish.

About this time, Sam, after a brief experience in the hardware business, joined his father’s work staff in the carriage plant. About this time, too, the elder McLaughlin invented the side sprin^ gear equipment on a buggy. He had a salesman demonstrate it to the farmers throughout the country, by driving it at a good speed, over fence rails, laid across the road.

“Business began to grow,” says George McLaughlin, “and I grew with it. My responsibilities increased and I began to take an interest in all the different problems which go into the successful conduct of any business.”

Sensing the Trend

TPHE elder McLaughlin left the quiet A village of Enniskillen, with his staff of eight workmen, in 1878, and established in OshaWa. In the next ten years his business had grown to such an extent that he was faced with the necessity of plant

extensions. Keen in foresight and recognizing the possibilities of the Canadian carriage trade—as, twenty years later, his sons sensed the trend of motor transportation—he was ready for the opportunity, which presented in 1888, to acquire the furniture factory, formerly occupied by the Heaps Company, which had gone into liquidation. McLaughlin was persuaded to take this over and, although at the time it was thought to be larger than he required and consideration was given to subletting a portion, expanding business within a few years compelled the building of an addition.

On the morning of December 7, 1899, fire devastated the McLaughlin plant. Temporarily it checked operations but, ultimately, it served tb demonstrate the. resource and vitality of the younger brother. Sam gathered together the workmen and rushed to Gananoque, Ont., where the factory of the Thousand Island Carriage Company was available. For six months he remained in Gananoque with the Oshawa staff and, by double-decking the factory and running day and night, he was successful in turning out three thousand vehicles. This enabled the company to retain its trade and to keep its goods upon the market, until the new and larger quarters could be built.

In the meantime, owing to the differences in the fire rates on the various units of the Oshawa plant, the settling of the insurance was a tedious affair. It was attended to by the father and George and Oliver Hezzelwood. They also had to settle the problem of whether or not to rebuild in Oshawa, other municipalities offering splendid investment opportunity. Oshawa, however, came forward with the offer of a loan of $50,000, to be repaid in annual instalments over a period of twenty years, without interest, and this determined father and sons.

The loan obtained and freight concessions won for Oshawa, from the Grand Trunk Railway, the McLaughlins immediately undertook rebuilding. Eventually the municipality’s loan was repaid before due.

The Eve of Motor Development

TIME went on and the McLaughlin industry grew in importance—approximately one quarter million carriages, buggies and sleighs were manufactured by the McLaughlins and distributed in all parts of the Dominion and it is a source of satisfaction to the McLaughlin brothers to realize that tens of thousands of these vehicles are still in active service from Halifax to Victoria—but carriage building had seemingly reached the saturation point. The McLaughlins realized that the possibility for expansion in the carriage business had about reached its limit, while the motor business appeared just on the eve of development—and so it has proved.

But, at that, their motor venture was almost wrecked in the initial stages. The two brothers were unable, at first, to make a connection with any company in the United States, in the same line, and so decided to “go it alone.” They secured an engineer, named Millbrath, and planned to manufacture a car, complete as to engine and body, in Canada. In the light of what is now known and in the face of increasing competition their policy was an impossible one; they would have been bankrupt, probably, within a comparatively brief period, caught in the aftermath of the industrial depression of that period. But Engineer Millbrath was taken seriously ill and they were compelled to abandon the plan of making the engine in Canada. What appeared a business tragedy at that time is now viewed as their salvation.

Linking Up With Durant

IN THEIR early investigations, Sam McLaughlin and Oliver Hezzelwood visited many cities in the United States; in Flint, Mich., they linked up with a man whom Sam had known with growing intimacy, as a carriage manufacturer. He was W. C. Durant, whose name is eminent in the automotive industry of the United States. The result was that, in October, 1907, the McLaughlins entered into their fifteen year arrangement with Durant to manufacture the Buick line in Canada. Simultaneously they continued to manufacture carriages and sleighs. In the

meantime, about 1911, Durant lost control of the General Motors Corporation, which he had organized and of which the Buick Company had become an integral part. Adrift from the General Motors Corporation, Durant, with Louis Chevrolet, started the Chevrolet car. Out of this partnership, by Sam McLaughlin’s manoeuvering, developed the arrangement made in 1915, for the McLaughlins to manufacture and distribute the Chevrolet car in Canada.

Durant offered Chevrolet in Canada to Sam McLaughlin, one day as they lunched together in New York.

“Do you want to buy it, boy?” questioned Durant.

Sam hesitated as his mind swiftly reviewed the industrial organization which the company already had in Oshawa. But he knew that the carriage end of their enterprise was becoming a heavier load, annually, and his business perception foreshadowed the growing possibilities of the motor car.

“How long will you give me to answer?” he asked.

“It must be soon,” said Durant, as he pointed out the progress which had already been made upon the Chevrolet plant then going forward in West Toronto. “They are spending money there, you may not want to spend.”

Sam stipulated for a week-end consideration. George was sent for and, with Durant’s lawyer, they drew up the agreement, tentative, of course, upon their father’s final acquiescence. For, although Sam McLaughlin then held controlling interest, through stock ownership, in the carriage company, “I wouldn’t have done anything to hurt the ‘Governor’s’ feelings,” he explained as we chatted over the incident.

The agreement fully arranged with the Durant interests, Sam returned to Toronto and characteristic of his initiative, entered into immediate negotiation for sale of the carriage factory end of the McLaughlin industry. The carriage department was sold to Carriage Factories Limited, three days after the Chevrolet agreement was settled and within three weeks Sam had every item of this department shipped out of Oshawa to the new owners.

After three years of intensive organization work for' the sale of motor cars in Canada, the McLaughlin Motor Car Company and the Chevrolet Motor Co. of Canada were merged November 1, 1918, into the General Motors of Canada. R. S. McLaughlin was elected president, with George McLaughlin as vice-president. The elder McLaughlin retired from active participation in the business, although he continued to take keen interest in its development up to the time of his death, November 21, 1921.

The Satisfaction of Achievement

THIS, then, is the business which the McLaughlin brothers have “grown to love so much.” “I have not taken this step lightly,” George McLaughlin told me, as he spoke of his business retirement. “It was a difficult matter to get my heart to give its consent.

“When I look back over the years of my labor, with my father and my brother and view our achievement, I am satisfied. However, in breaking away from the corporation I am by no means going to sit down and rust. I look forward to a great many years of useful endeavor in various fields.

“Every life should try to be constructive.”

At fifty-four years of age, George W. McLaughlin is quitting work to go out into the world to play. Necessities of early years demanded that a lad, in his early ’teens, should lay aside his school books, forsake play and enter upon an apprenticeship, leading to his life’s work. He has been a faithful worker, as the son of a father who worked with such close application to the daily round that, at seventy, he would see the workmen in and out of the factory, morning and night. Always, too, there was a determination to succeed, which came to him from his hardheaded, close-fisted, Irish Presbyterian parent.

The Coming Re-Adjustment

DUT necessity no longer exacts and George McLaughlin is retiring at least ten years before normal that he may “let up” the nerve tension which accom-

panies the direction of every vast corpor ation—“to spend the summer in Muskoka and next winter abroad.” He figures out that he will, at fifty-four enjoy playing measurably more than he would at sixty-four.

“After that is on the lap of the gods,” as he expressed it to me.

After that! George McLaughlin tosses aside the problems of re-adjustment with easy confidence in the future. Perhaps he is buoyed up by the assertion of his old time business intimate, Oliver Hezzelwood, that, “a man of George’s broad ideals should go in for some big thing, in a national way.”

At least he has not quit working upon impulse. It seems to be part of a plan that has been underlying his daily endeavor for years. As the superintendent of the Presbyterian Sunday school, as a reader of good literature, particularly the historical classics, as one deeply interested in child welfare and town planning, his mind has deviated more and more from the more materialistic things of life until he has become possessed of deep-rooted ideals which it is believed he will now make his particular hobby.

At the start he is somewhat handicapped by precedent; his father before him tried but failed. He went to California for a winter and found that “loafing” was incompatible to him. One day, on the sands of Long Beach, he turned to those of his party and said, “Well, this is no kind of life for an able-bodied man,” and within a few days he returned to Oshawa to busy himself about the plant.

On the other hand, Sam thinks his brother is doing the wise thing. “He put in thirty-nine years of hard work and is entitled to a holiday,” argues Sam but, as for himself, he says, “his disposition is different from mine—perhaps I inherit some of my father’s disposition and must work on to the end.”

As for that matter, while Sam is something of the human dynamo of modem business, he enjoys short seasons of sport. He likes nothing better than a week or two at his camp in northern Quebec, there to shoot and fish.

As Sam points out, George has developed other interests than those strictly pertaining to business.

What are these interests? Well, for one, there is Elmcroft, that well-conditioned, three hundred acre Ontario county farm, where his son, Ray McLaughlin, is bringing science to bear upon the agricultural industry.

But it is not so apparent that this farmer-son of George McLaughlin’s is as certain, in his own mind, that the father’s future lies on the farm!

George McLaughlin went to his son with the announcement that he was retiring from General Motors of Canada. “Guess I’ll come out and see what kind of a job you can give me on the farm,” he ventured.

“Oh, we can give you lots of work; there’s always lots to be done on a farm,” responded the son, “But I don’t know that you would be satisfied with the pay.”

“Oh, as to that,” assured the father, “I’d be willing to take what you thought I was worth . . . and, by the way, what do you think I would be worth?”

“Nothing,” said the son with unabashed frankness.

In stepping from the theatre of active industry, George McLaughlin has a message of inspiration, based upon the business experiences of himself and his brother. “I have found that there are certain fundamentals, which will make for the success of any concern,” he told me, in our chatting, while we motored along the highway to Oshawa, after an inspection of Elmcroft. “First, you must make an article which is in general demand and for which there is a market; in other words apply ordinary common sense before embarking upon a business.

“Second, your costs must be right and the goods thoroughly well made; in short, honest dealing.

“Third, your goods must be intensively marketed, with strict honesty and fair play; the seller always looking upon the buyer as a partner in his business and having regard for his success at all times.

“If these rules are followed there is no reason why industry should not be successful. One reason for our success has been the adherence of our entire organization to those ideals and high standards of workmanship.”