A Twenty-five Cent Start in Life
A quarter of a dollar was the capital of this young English immigrant when he got his first Job in Canada twenty years ago.
THE sun of early May lighted the broad St. Lawrence with spring radiance on a morning twenty years ago, and touched with dazzling white the deckworks of an inward bound Atlantic liner. Her decks were crowded with British immigrants who, after watching, eagereyed, the unfolding vistas of the mighty river, were turning now to the bustle and confusion of landing at old Quebec.
Inconspicuous among the roughly - clothed throng, with its mountains of battered and ropefastened luggage, was a seventeen-year old English lad. Of medium height and build, there was little to distinguish him from his fellows unless, perhaps, a certain erectness of carriage, the clean run of chin and lips, and a pair of exceptionally direct blue eyes. The total assets of this newcomer to Canada’s shore were, fifteen shillings and unbounded—though unspoken—confidence in himself. With these frail tools A. E. Dawson, now vice-president and general manager of the Toronto Casualty, Fire and Marine Insurance Company, and one of the most widely known insurance men in Canada prepared to carve for himself a niche in the economic life of the Dominion. That was on the tenth of May, 1905.
Two days later young Dawson got off the train at Lakefield, north of Peterboro, Ontario—up in the Stony Lake district. He got off there because that was as far west as his fifteen shillings, expended on a railway ticket at immigrant’s rates, would carry him. In his pocket was a quarter of á dollar.
Now a quarter of a dollar, whether expressed in terms of cents or pence doesn’t go very far toward keeping life in a hungry, growing boy, who is starting life in a strange land, without home or friends. But it happened that one of Mr. Dawson’s strongest characteristics, then, as now, was to go after what he wanted. He wanted a job.
After some hours of dusty hiking along the country roads about the town, stopping at farms and wherever there was likelihood of employment he met a man on a milk wagon. Dawson stopped him and stated his case. The other gazed quizzically down on him.
“No—” he said at length, “I don’t need help, but—jump on. Mebbe my brother could use you.
I’ll drive you over.”
They drove for four miles back along the way that Dawson had come. At the farm the brother also favored the applicant with a calculating glance.
“Need a man? Well, mebbe yes, and again mebbe no,” he said enlighteningly. “What’s your name?”
“Where are you from?”
“Humph! What have ye been used to doing?”
“I left school before I was twelve, and got a job as a printer’s devil.”
“What good’s a printer’s devil on my farm?”
“I chucked that to go farming. I worked for a farmer and cattle dealer for three years—until just before I came out here.”
“M-hmm-m. When did you land?”
“Two days ago.”
The farmer smiled. “What made you come out?” Young Dawson hesitated. Here was something that had been close to his heart; a mirror turned to the golden dreams of his boyhood, fostered by railway station posters showing the hundreds of acres of waving grain, the broad fields soaking in the prairie sunshine, and the words of glowing promise for those who sought their fortunes in the Canadian west. Ever since he remembered anything he had wanted to come. That was it.
“I wanted to come,” he said.
The farmer understood, somehow.
“I’ll give you ten dollars a month to stay until after the fall plowing,” he said.
So Dawson got his first job in Canada.
The Opening of the Way
WHEN the snow flew, and his contract was fulfilled Dawson went to Peterboro, a few miles south, and secured work with a contractor, laying foundation stones for a house, at a dollar and a half a day. He didn’t like it as well as farming, but it was a job, he was independent, and opportunity, he felt, was just around life’s corner.
One afternoon while hard at work he was approached by a neatly dressed man of agreeable manner who
introduced himself as Thomas Mark, the Peterboro agent for the Manufacturers Life Insurance Company. A certain policy, which he named and explained, was the one thing certain to put young Dawson on the high road to success. Dawson was interested from the start —not so much in the policy as in the details of it and the other man’s method of presenting them. A thought leaped into his head, and, as his prehensile brain reached out and grasped the fundamentals of what the insurance man was saying before the other was quite done, he felt a mental stimulation which he had never before experienced. One thing at a time, however—and he was supposed to be working.
“I’ve got to get this job through,” he told the other, “but if you like I’ll meet you at six o’clock to-night, and we’ll talk it over some more.”
Shortly after the other man had gone Dawson’s employer came around to see how the work was progressing and the young man told him of the agent’s visit. The contractor snorted.
“Don’t you put your good money into no insurance schemes, my boy,” he advised. “You steer clear of them fellows or they’ll skin you. Put your money into houses! That’s what I did and look at me. Build and be rich— that’s my motto. You do what I tell you and never mind these fancy schemes.”
Dawson grinned to himself. He couldn’t build very extensively on what remained from a dollar-fifty a day nor would it buy much insurance. However that didn’t prevent him from thinking what he would do if he had the money.
At six o’clock he met the insurance man. As a result of his thought during the afternoon Dawson was able to discuss the proposition with a soundness of opinion
and intelligence that caused the other considerable astonishment.
“Good heavens, man!” he said at length, “you’re wasting time laying stone. You ought to be'out selling insurance!” Probably it did not occur to either of them that young Dawson was laying* a foundation in a double sense but the remark crystallized what had been in the boy’s mind for most of the afternoon.
“Do you think I’d have a chance?” he asked. “Come and see me in the morning and I’ll give you a start,” the other told him.
So Dawson took his first step up.
His First Prospect
PRIMED .with figures and facts, and certain that he had mastered the fundamentals of his new venture young Dawson, then eighteen years of age, set out to conquer his little world. Like many another adventurer before him the road to success was by devious and sometimes inglorious by-paths. One of these led him to his first “prospective prospect,” a farmer whom he knew, a few miles north of Peterboro. The farmer was forking manure, and much too busy to talk. Dawson thereupon put into action his first deliberate application of psychology to business.
He greeted the farmer and then—no, he didn’t talk insurance; he grabbed a pitchfork and set to work on the manure pile, and they toiled together amid the steaming mess. After a bit there came a lull in the work and they sat down to rest. Then Dawson canvassed his prospect with all he had in him. The man was interested, but—“I guess I’ll get this job done afore I think of it,” he decided.
So it continued throughout, the morning; Dawson wielding a skilful fork and canvassing bis man between times, until, by noon, he felt the thing was sure. The farmer was a canny soul, however, and did not intend to capitulate—at least, not until the job was done, and with such efficient aid it would be finished by sun-down.
It is significant that it did not occur to Dawson to quit. All the long afternoon the performance was repeated; work and canvass—and at fourthirty he signed up his man.
“He got a good day’s work out of me,” he said many years later, “but I got the business, and that policy is still in force.”
From this beginning the young man progressed in quick strides, and before he was twenty years old was appointed general agent of Northumberland County for the Manufacturer’s Life, becoming, thereby, the youngest general agent in Canada. In 1910, Thomas Bradshaw, now general manager of the Massey-Harris Company, but then manager of the Imperial Life, asked him to go to the Soo to organize the Algoma district. He did so, and his first stroke of business was productive of one of those unexpected and rather amusing turns apparently inseparable from the insurance game, and illustrative, too, of the folly of letting appearances count, without closer investigation.
He went one night to a little house away up in the north country. It was a frame dwelling, drab and lonely looking, and altogether a most unlikely prospect. The owner admitted him, however, and the interior provided his first surprise. It was furnished simply, but in excellent taste, and was spotlessly clean. Dawson was invited to a seat, and commenced to discuss life insurance with the man and his wife.
The Three Climbs
IN THE course of an hour his client bought a $2,000 twenty-year endowment policy, the premium on which was $102.
“Wait a minute,” he said, and disappeared upstairs, returning shortly with $102 in currency which he handed to Dawson, and for which he got his receipt.
Discussion then turned to insurance in general, which brought out that the man had no protection against fire on either house or contents. Dawson agreed to secure him cover in a company for which he occasionally did business, and said that the premium would be about twenty-one dollars.
“Wait a minute,” said the client and again climbed the stairs. He re-appeared with the money in bills, and once more took a receipt.
By this time the man and his wife were full of the subject, and the insurance man turned the conversation Continued on page 90
Continued from page 18
to Sickness and Accident policies. After some consideration the man decided he might as well make a job of it, and for the third time mounted the stairs to his apparently inexhaustible cache, and brought down the amount of the premium —sixty dollars in bills. It was a profitable evening’s work.
The man was a good risk, intelligent and industrious, but, probably because of the rather unpromising appearance of the exterior of the house, he had been entirely passed up by the insurance profession.
Dawson’s work in the Algoma district was so efficient that the following year he was given charge of the Saskatchewan branch. His next rise was when he was brought to the head office at Toronto to superintend the educational work of the Imperial Life, and in 1914 he took command of the Central Ontario branch of the company.
Mr. Dawson recently was asked how he had overcome the handicap of an inadequate education. His reply was characteristic.
“I went to night school in Peterboro,” he smiled, “and in addition hired a high school principal to coach me at night for thirty-five cents an hour. In that way I was able to get my senior matriculation.”
His conversation proves him a wide and acquisitive reader, whose analytical mind rejects pedantic husks and goes direct to the kernal of knowledge within. He has a sense of humor, however, which forbids too serious consideration of life, and is a hearty advocate of linking human qualities with business. That he can tell a joke against himself is evidenced by the following:
“On one occasion (he relates) I closed a rather large risk with apparent ease, the only question being, not whether the man would take insurance, but which policy he would select. This finally being decided I proceeded to make arrangements for medical examination. The man stopped me.
“ ‘If it’s all the same to you,’ he said, ‘I’d prefer to be examined by my own doctor.’
“I was curious. ‘What for?’ I asked.
“ ‘Well, it’s this way,’ he explained. ‘He knows my case, because he’s been treating me in and out of hospital for lung trouble for the past two years.’ ”
Effective Team Work
MR. DAWSON is not a believer in playing a lone hand if there is a better way of securing business. Insurance, as well as misfortune, makes strange bedfellows, and the successful insurance man is the one who bends men, circumstances and environment in the way he would go. Many years ago, Mr. Dawson undertook to initiate an out-of-work professional entertainer in the mysteries of selling life insurance. The man was a likeable sort of fellow with an extra-
ordinary fund of experience, but no training as a salesman. So they planned a bit of team work, in which each should do what he knew best, and one day they arrived in the village of Apsley, which then was the center of a thriving logging district.
During the day the men were too busy to be canvassed. At night, however, when they were ripe for a little recreation, Dawson’s companion put on a show and entertainment in the bunkhouse. There was an attendance of twenty-five or thirty lumberjacks, and with the enthusiasm of their kind, soon were in high good humor. That was Dawson’s chance. He wound up the evening talking insurance and between them they wrote considerable business.
“We got more experience than profit out of that little venture, however,” Mr. Dawson observed drily, when relating the story, “for they were unstable fellows, mostly, and very few of them kept up their policies.”
He was more successful on another occasion when, at some point in his territory he ran into Pete Ferguson of the Dominion Life, who was covering the same ground. They decided to work together for the afternoon, and tossed a coin to see for which company they would canvass first.
Pete won, and they visited the prospect together. After a couple of hours of canvassing and friendly chat they closed the case for a $2,500 twenty-year endowment policy. The application was signed and the check made out and handed over, payable to the Dominion Life.
Then, Dawson told the new client of the unusual circumstances surrounding the canvass, and called on his friend Ferguson to aid him in extolling the good qualities of the Imperial Life. This he did, and the man, again a prospect, was so amused by this unique situation of competing agents working together, that they had little difficulty in signing him up for a similar policy in Dawson’s company.
The Steady Advance
THE story of young Dawson’s advancement was not altogether one of success in writing policies in all circumstances. While an opportunist, who never let a chance slip by, this alone was not sufficient to give him largeness of business vision and the executive ability which he now possesses in so large measure. He was ambitious always, but restrained his ambition to a certain definite path, and a certain definite policy in following it. He made a point of cultivating the acquaintance of older men—men who had experience behind them—and he found that they were always glad to give, freely, the fruits of this experience to those who sought. He spent as much time as he could manage with men in high executive positions. He questioned them, watched them, imitated them where he could put their methods into practice, and in this way absorbed invaluable information on the executive and administrative side of insurance. This had the additional effect of giving him the right angle on the larger aspects of the business, so that instead of stunning his mentality against the immensity of it, or following the devious by-paths of day-to-day routine, he came to view it from above; from a position where he could mould the business instead of letting it mould him. All of which brought him to a parting of the ways.
The summer of 1921 found him in a financial partnership with Lt.-Col. C. H. Ackerman, of Peterboro, and he became the organizing spirit of the new allCanadian insurance company then being formed under the name of The Toronto Casualty Fire and Marine Insurance Company. This company received its licence to commence operations in the fall of that year, with Dawson as vicepresident and general manager. Surrounding himself on the executive of that company with men of the calibre of G. Larratt Smith, M. A. Mackenzie, F.I.A., and W. W. Evans, he proceeded to pilot the company on a thoroughly successful course and in 1924, in the third complete year of its history, his company, competing against one hundred and eight other companies writing automobile insurance in Canada, came out second from the top, outdistancing all others but one.
The term “a human dynamo” is one which, through misuse, has fallen much into disrepute. It must be resurrected, however, for it is the only way in which adequately to describe this progressive young man. He is a general all-round sportsman. He plays hard, works hard and imbues his staff with the same indomitable energy and hard driving force which is within himself, yet does it in such a way that there is no loss of zest. “Personality,” he says, “is the sum total of one’s talents, driven by the steam of will power.”
And that is Dawson.
He has little use for the quitter. fBy that he means, not the man who honestly has tried and failed, but the man who lets go before the final moment. He says: “I have had men come in and lay down their rate book and supplies, disheartened and discouraged. Unable to prevail upon them to continue, I have let them go their way, yet I have been absolutely certain that another ounce of effort would have carried them over the top. It is a narrow thread, indeed, that separates failure from success—and yet they are poles apart in their effect. But it’s the bulldog sticker who wins. That’s why the Anglo-Saxon is top dog to-day. He isn’t especially brilliant, but how he can stick!”
The Qualities That Win
WHAT qualities should a good insurance man possess?” Mr. Dawson once was asked.
“My ideal salesman,” said he, “—and by that I mean not only the insurance man but every salesman—is satisfied; satisfied with himself and with his job. He appreciates that there are limits to the concessions and benefits his company can offer to his prospect and to himself. He believes that his particular job justifies his existence and constitutes him a good citizen. He has his ‘blue’ spells, but he overrides them and tries again. He is careful in dress and speech, and his manner of speaking carries a finality which breeds confidence in him, because behind his words is the driving force of a sincere nature—which all men will recognize. He plays square and recognizes the other fellow’s right to a living. The force and quality of his personality are felt from within, not impressed from without. He is friendly with all, and has a quality of making his prospect feel important without flattering him, by a just deference to his opinion. He has sufficient knowledge of psychology to know that women are controlled by feeling, and men by logic, so that in a canvass he pictures benefits for the wife, and combines his pictures with figures for the husband. Finally, he meets failure with exactly the same smile as success.”
A. E. Dawson is still a young man but he has gone a long way in a few years. One day, when he was nineteen years old, he sat on the ground with his legs in a post hole, and, canvassing four brothers (they were digging the post holes), sold them each a thousand dollar policy. He then followed this up by canvassing their relatives until he had sold nineteen members of that one family each a policy for one thousand dollars. The qualities shown thus early make it more easy to understand why, at thirty-seven, he is manager of a large, successful Canadian business.
Asking a man to what he attributes his success is a risky thing. It may earn a rebuff, and, on the other hand, it may start a train of reminiscence that drags through hours and leads nowhere. With Dawson I once chanced it.
“What had most to do with your progress?” I asked.
“There is an old yarn in the insurance game about two representatives who were talking over their experiences. One was prosperous looking, and the other was rather seedy. Ever hear it? Well, the seedy one told, with a great deal of indignation, of how badly he had been treated by a prospect, and ended by saying that he’d never been so insulted in his life.
“The prosperous one scratched his chin in a puzzled way, then said, ‘It’s a funny thing, Tom; I’ve been in all sorts of places looking for business, and I’ve been kicked out, cursed out and thrown out —but insulted? Never!’ ”