The Farm Boy Triumphs Again

Why is it that, despite the stock jest that the rural dweller has become in story and on the stage, some of the biggest men in the economic life of the Dominion spent their early lives upon a farm? The reason of this is readily appreciated after reading Mr. Hodgins’ vivid and interesting account of the life and training of J. H. Fortier.


The Farm Boy Triumphs Again

Why is it that, despite the stock jest that the rural dweller has become in story and on the stage, some of the biggest men in the economic life of the Dominion spent their early lives upon a farm? The reason of this is readily appreciated after reading Mr. Hodgins’ vivid and interesting account of the life and training of J. H. Fortier.


The Farm Boy Triumphs Again


Why is it that, despite the stock jest that the rural dweller has become in story and on the stage, some of the biggest men in the economic life of the Dominion spent their early lives upon a farm? The reason of this is readily appreciated after reading Mr. Hodgins’ vivid and interesting account of the life and training of J. H. Fortier.

THREE hours after he had been elected to the presidency of the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association, J. H. Fortier, on a sizzling hot day in Hamilton, sat in his suite at the Royal Connaught, and coolly discussed various problems I sought to place before him. There were interruptions by the dozen, telephone calls, a 1res, official and personal congratulations, but each time he resumed our talk, coolly, his mind undiverted from the main channel of its purpose, much as a conference chairman might turn, consecutively, to the new item of business with. ‘Well, gentlemen! shall we now

proceed to the next number on our programme . . The president of the C.M.A. for 1925 is like that. His entire business record follows a direct and simple course I would call it a single track purpose were it not that the phrase is invariably otherwise employed. But Fortier’s life, it appears to me, is single-tracked to the extent that it has been based upon a definite and consistent creed of "looking ahead.” hrom his very first job with the P. T. Legare Company of Quebec city of which, to-day, he is the directing mind, his eye has always been upon the job ahead. He began in business thirty-two years ago as a stenographer. There were three jobs in the Legare firm at that time: the manager (Mr. Legare himself held that position rather firmly!) the book-keeper, and the stenographer who was supposed to make himself generally useful. Young Fortier looked ahead the while he made himself generally useful. The result was that when the book-keeper left to open a branch office for the firm, the "job ahead” became vacant. "We'll have to hunt around for a new book-keeper,” observed Mr. Legare. "Why hunt around for a new book-keeper?” asked the alert young stenographer, with characteristic coolness. "Give me the job!” "Can you handle it?" asked the head dubiously. "Of course I can: what is more if I don't get it, I’ll resign. If I am not goimr to get a chance to advance here, then I am in a rut and may as well eet out.” Fortier got the job. He got it for the asking; he got it for being willing to undertake fresh responsibility. But he held it. first of all, because he had studied and prepared himself—in short, he had properly “looked ahead.” No Silver Spoon at Start \T THE start. J. H. Fortier had no asset not posY* sensed by any virile Canadian youth of to-day; unless it was that he had the good fortune to be born upon a Freneh-Canadian farm. Fortier, the versatile business executive, counts that an asset, indeed. "I have to believe in the city boy to-day. because I haie six of them coming along,” he commented in the course of our talk, “but I have no misgivings about the country boy. I know what he has done; what he can do. I know the sacrifices he must go through before he can achieve his way in the world.” Sacrifice! J. H. Fortier, the man, looks back to those earlier days of primitive farming, those days when sacrifice arid thrift were actual inherent qualities of the people among whom he dwelt; those days when an honest day’s toil was basic to life’s progress. Fortier’s parents farmed outside of St. Gervais, in

Bellechasse county, south-east of Levis. It was a district of earnest, struggling farmers, whose land in characteristic French method came down like narrow ribbons to a main road, and "home" was one of those quaint white-washed cottages, which dot the Quebec countryside and link one church-steepled village with another. "And in good years, father painted the roof red ” said Mr. Fortier, by way of further coloring the picture of habitant peace and content. No lad could step out of such setting without first having absorbed the qualities fundamental to the people—qualities of honest, rustic life, modesty, earnest unselfish purpose, and under the guidance of the Freneh-Canadian cure, possessing a simple, abiding faith in an all-watchful God. Fortier’s father had been trained in military schools and had a broad conception of the problems of language and education. His neighbor farmers, too, were progressive and

broadminded in the seventies when “J.H.” was growing up. They found that the Scottish and English farmers of the eastern townships were breeding cattle superior to their own. So they reached a “get together” arrangement, which brought its complication, in that the English knew no French and the French knew no English. So these early promoters of the bonne entente solved their problem by exchanging their sons. Young French-Canadians went to work for a few months on English farms and young Englishmen went to work on Freneh-Canadian farms. To-day, as the second Freneh-Canadian to be president of “Canada’s industrial parliament,” as Col. Arthur

FORTIER’S DAILY BUSINESS DOZEN 1. Work conscientiously. 2. Keep on studying. 3. Be enthusiastic. Pessimism gets you nowhere. But guard against extravagance. 4. Don’t be afraid of responsibility. 5. Have definite hours of work. 6. Having made a decision, go to it. Correct as you go. 7. Undertake few things, but complete them. From small things train yourself to bigger ones. 8. Stick to your job. Hold what you have. Progress every day. 9. Worry is wearing, physically and mentally. Don’t cross the river till you come to it. 10. Take recreation—hut don’t let play disinterest you in your business. 11. Meet successful people. Learn from them. Profit from every occasion. 12. Stand for something good in your community. Boost your village, town, province and country. It tends toward general progress—and it benefits yourself.

Hatch aptly describes it, J. H. Fortier acknowledges his main purpose to be the unifying of all Canadian sentiment and effort. Fortier told me that he accepted the position because “I owed it to my province and to my people.” In his opinion, there has been too much sectionalism in Canada in the past. “Ontario and Quebec,” he maintains, “should try to bring all Canada together. But the bonne entente movement will only be a success in so far as we develop it for all Canada. It will fail if selfish or sectional.” And now what of this Quebecker’s

business achievements? At the outset, Fortier’s father counselled against his taking the Legare position. “The business has no future,” he reasoned. “Every farmer has a mower now; pretty soon you won’t be able to sell any more.” J. H. Fortier smiles as he reminisces over the period of thirty-two years. The first year he went to work for P. T. Legare the firm did a business approximating $25,000. In 1921 the turn-over exceeded $12,000,000. P. T. Legare Company started business with implements, carriages and waggons, “everything for the farm and home.” It had one small office in Quebec city. To-day it has twenty-five distributing branches and one thousand local agencies through Quebec and the eastern provinces. At the close of Fortier’s first year as book-keeper he presented his report to Mr. Legare. There was a small credit balance. “We are making progress,” commented the owner. “Yes, but we can do much better,” added Fortier, advancing the proposal: “I can make more money next year if you will let me take charge and split with me any increase in profits.” Young Fortier had employed his first year’s insight into the company’s affairs to plan ahead. Mr. Legare, shrewd executive, encouraged creative thought in his lieutenants. He agreed to Fortier’s proposal and from that time on Fortier virtually managed the business. He was soon admitted into partnership and in 1903 when he was twenty-eight he was appointed general manager of the limited concern organized at that time. Value of Co-operative Effort FORTIER is a believer in co-operative effort. When he sought partnership in the business, Mr. Legare asked him to state his conditions. “The percentage of my share in the business is neither here nor there,” he replied. “The question of results is the main point,” and he pleaded with Mr. Legare to admit two other of the firm’s employees at the same time. “I did so,” he explains, “because I believe in co-operation; one man cannot do it all alone. One man has not the capacity; he cannot broaden out alone. By co-ordination of energies a business grows into a big thing.” Seven out of every ten employees are stockholders in the P. T. Legare organization to-day. Originally one of the firm’s first merchandising considerations was buggies. “When we saw that the buggy business was going, that people would use a different mode of transportation, we went into automobiles,” said Mr. Fortier. To-day the Legare Automobile Company, a subsidiary of the parent concern, has its own branch or agency in every town and every district of the province of Quebec. It is, as a matter

of fact, one of thp largest automobile distributing and garage organizations on the continent. Someone told me that the I égaré organization had rural Quebec so completely indexed that any salesman could quickly tell you the worldly possessions of the most remote farmer—whether the farm wife had a washing machine or not; whether she had an electric In answer: “Well, there are some 160,000 farmers in the Province of Quebec and we have 150,000 of them on our hooks,” laughed Mr. Fortier. That is doing business in thorough fashion. Fortier, personally knows of the assets and liabilities of every customer; and of every possible customer for that matter. He knows from first-hand information, too, which is vital to business success. Business experience has taught him the value of personal knowledge. So much so, that when his eldest son Continued on page 47

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graduated from the university his father first of all “put him into overalls” and then sent him out into rural Quebec. “I want you to prepare a report for me, giving the financial standing of every farmer in a certain district,” he commissioned his son.

“We didn’t actually need this information,” Fortier confesses, “for we already had the data on fyle. I wanted to test the boy’s ability to gather facts, but more particularly I wanted the facts and figures to ‘sink in’; once gained by personal research they are never forgotten. And if he is to make anything of himself in our business he must know rural Quebec.”

A Diversity of Interests

FORTIER’S departures from the immediate business enterprise which chiefly claims his attentions, reveal his versatility and broad taste for adventure.

For instance, fifteen years ago, when the Quebec Exhibition faced bankruptcy, Fortier stepped into the breach. With another well-to-do citizen he bought the Exhibition and ran it for one year, demonstrating that it could be made to pay. Following this demonstration, the city of Quebec had a bill put through the provincial legislature, expropriating it.

An incident of Fortier’s management illustrates his judgment of human nature. He had hired an aeroplane to give demonstrations. Up to this time, 1911, an aeroplane was a novelty. Spectators so crowded about the machine that the pilot was unable to manoeuvre a flight. A small staff of officers tried in vain to move the crowd. A group of surly fellows went so far as to dare the exhibition attendants to move them and the inadequate protective force was dismayed.

In the midst of the confusion Fortier appeared, cool, electric. He approached the unruly element. “Here! you fellows seem pretty strong; give us a hand to hold back the crowd!” he cried, and, honored by the tribute, the bullies turned themselves at once into unpaid police. There was no further trouble.

Fortier went into the newspaper business to satisfy a boyhood ambition. In 1917, he took over L’Evenement of Quebec city and in 1920 started Le Nouvelliste of Three Rivers, the youngest daily in the province.

When young Fortier attended business college in Quebec, he roomed with another boy from a Quebec farm. Fortier was Liberal in his views; his friend Conservative. Political passions ran strong in each and argument was frequent. To sèttle these arguments they had recourse to their newspapers. Fortier’s newspaper, naturally, was Liberal; his friend’s favorite paper, Conservative.

One day when Fortier ventured his last dollar to back a statement he had hazarded he was chagrined to find the newspapers useless for settling the dispute.

Turning to his friend he made what seemed at the time a rash promise: “If •H* *H*

ever I am worth $100,000,” he said, “I am going to have a newspaper that can be considered reliable, and that tells the truth, as it sees it, without political bias.” Which probably accounts for the statement of the man to whom was entrusted the first three years’ management of Le Nouvelliste. Not so long ago he told me that Fortier’s initial editorial instructions to him simmered down to the axiom: “Always remember there are two sides to every question.”

An Adventure in Banking

FORTIER will not acknowledge that his one and only appearance upon the stage of life as a bank-executive was as vital to the preservation of Canadian banking safety as his intimates know it to have been. He will, however, laughingly concede that his hair had not yet turned grey when, with a group of Quebec business men, he began the task of salvaging La Banque Nationale in 1920. Some time before, the story goes, Fortier was a director of an agricultural enterprise whose credit was questioned when banking accommodation was sought. Fortier promised his personal assistance, if by reason of this account the bank should ever find itself in difficulties. Thus, when the critical moment came, fulfilling his earlier promise, Fortier went to the bank’s rescue.

Probably few of the bank’s shareholders, and certainly none of its 235,000 depositors, ever realized how near the brink La Banque Nationale was at one time. Fortier and other prominent Quebec men were called in. They secured banking support and organized a further group of business men. New capital gave the bank a further lease of life, but ultimately it was decided that consolidation with another bank offered the only permanent means of rehabilitation. It was Fortier who went to the Quebec legislature and secured the special legislation which brought about the merger with the Banque de Hochelaga and set up a completely strengthened banking structure.

These, then, are the high lights of a business career brimming with significance.

Knowing all these facts I yet found it difficult to reconcile them with the man before me—this Quebec farm boy, lithe of figure, youthfully enthusiastic, electric of speech and action. J. H. Fortier has similarly intrigued many a man upon first meeting. At fifty, he has the outward zest of youth. Count that man richly endowed who retains virility of thought and action, the while he has acquired the sober judgment of sound experience!

J. H. Fortier emerges from the university of modern business and now, as president of a nationally-entrenched association which represents a capital investment of three billion dollars in Canadian industry, he enters upon a post-graduate course in national economics.

Let it be written: Main Street has triumphed again.