THE HAPPY BAKER OF OTTAWA
How is it that Cecil Morrison, broke twenty years ago and hated as c vicious boss, is now wealthy and one of the best employers in town? “If you do the right thing,” he says, “God gives you the green light”
EARLY IN 1933, at the bottom of the depression, Cecil Morrison, a forty-three-year-old penniless baker, took over a derelict bakery on Ottawa’s Echo Drive. His landlord trusted him for two hundred dollars—the first month’s rent.
Morrison had a reputation for being a mean and ruthless businessman who lied about prices, exploited his employees, and who stepped on anyone who got in his way. When he started his new business Morrison gave himself a drastic moral overhauling. “I decided God was going to run my business from now on,” he says. “I’d listen to Him and do what He wanted me to.”
Under this novel leadership arrangement the Morrison-Lamothe Bakery Limited has enjoyed phenomenal success. Morrison started off with a dilapidated twenty-five-hundred-square-foot plant with leaky roofs and rotting floors. The company was so poor it could only afford a single hundredwatt bulb: the bakers would unscrew it and take it with them as they moved from the mixing room upstairs to the oven room below. Called in to inspect the wiring, electrician Archie MacDonald was so frightened by what he saw that he couldn’t sleep that night. The staff consisted of nineteen men who had a combined weekly pay cheque of three hundred dollars. Ten unpainted wagons pulled by ten undernourished horses were enough
to cover all the routes and they returned each night more than half full of bread.
Today the original shack has blossomed forth into a hundred-thousand-square-foot streamlined bakery with fixed assets valued at more than one million dollars. The annual gross sales of two million dollars include ten million loaves, more than half a million dollars’ worth of cakes and sweet goods. A later venture, the catering department, fed 650,000 people during the week-long Marian Congress in 1947.
Morrison’s ten routes have mushroomed into ninety-six, serving a radius of one hundred miles around Ottawa. The original small group of dispirited horses has grown to a fleet of a hundred trucks—the largest fleet in Ottawa next to the Ottawa Transportation Commission. Morrison’s workers, now grown from nineteen to two hundred and seventy, are among the highest paid in Ottawa and reputedly the happiest in Canada. Recently a group of military intelligence officers were sent to the bakery to find out how he maintained such a high standard of morale.
A Morrison-Lamothe doughmixer earns $51.45 a week, a dividerman $47.73, a lead ovenman $51.45. These rates range up to twenty-five per cent above the next best pay for the job in Ottawa. They also compare favorably with union scales of pay in
larger centres like Toronto. Are the workers satisfied? Once, following a two-hour discussion, the workers voted themselves a twenty-five per cent cut in their bonus because they felt the existing rate was unfair to the company. “Sounds queer to outsiders,” comments Oscar Charron, a plant baker for eighteen years, “but the old man’s a square shooter and we play fair with him.”
Morrison says, “If you do the right thing God gives you the green light. Then you can push ahead with confidence.”
Only a short time before going broke in 1932 Morrison had almost succeeded in becoming a millionaire. As general manager of the Inter-City Baking Company, a six-million-dollar trans-Canada chain of bakeries, he had a salary of $10,000; successful investments brought his income up to $40,000. All counted he was worth $750,000. However, in a few months the depression eased him out of his job, wiped out his investments and put him $30,000 in the hole. “I was completely stranded,” says Morrison. “Money had been my god and my god’s feet had turned to clay.”
The blackest moment of the blackest day of Morrison’s life was 6 p.m., November 1, 1932, when he returned home to tell his wife they were penniless. In the late mail he found an invitation to attend an Oxford Group meeting at the Chateau
Laurier. Under the impression the Oxford Group was a literary society he said to his wife, “We’re broke, and since it’s free, let’s go.”
Morrison, groping for the right words to describe exactly what happened to him at that meeting, says, “It was like a man dying of thirst in the desert suddenly discovering a brook of cool clean water.”
The Oxford Group—now known as Moral Re-Armament or simply MRA — teaches that man should accept God as his guide in practical, everyday matters. Man should live by four absolute standards—honesty, purity, unselfishness and love —to be practiced in business, family and social life. If you want the world a better place, start by making yourself a better person. When individual men change, the nation changes and then the world changes.
“I got a true picture of my real self from MRA,”
says Morrison. “It shocked me so much that I decided to change.” And he has changed in a spectacular way.
He had always been the foe of organized labor. “I hated unions like the devil hates holy water,” he says. Once in Saskatoon he used ruthless strongarm methods to break a strike. Soon after he started his new business he secretly spied into a brief case belonging to a foreman and found that the men were organizing. In spite of his determination to lead a new life, he couldn’t quite overcome his ingrained hatred of unions. The president and secretary of the embryo union were promptly fired. Questioned by the Department of Labor, Morrison claimed the men were laid off in the interests of economy and refused to back down.
“At this point,” recounts Morrison, “I decided afresh to listen to God. I awoke at four one morning
and realized that if I wanted to straighten out this mess I should start where I first went wrong peeking into the brief case.” Next morning confessed his spying to the two men, restored them to the payroll, apologized, and gave them each a hundred dollars for lost pay. “In my thirty years with the labor movement I’ve never known any employer to do such a fine thing,” comments A. R. Mosher, president of the Canadian Congress of Lahor.
Since that time Morrison’s relationship with unions has been conspicuously cordial. To interested labor organizers he says, “Come on down. Perhaps we’re not doing enough for our men.” On the two or three occasions that they have accepted his invitation, organizers were extended a cordial welcome by the boss, given the most luxurious otfices in the plant, while arrangements were made for the men to be interviewed both individually and collectively. So far the MorrisonLamothe Bakery has not been organized. “That man Morrison isa smaller, smarter edition of Henry Ford,” says Pat Conroy, secretary of the CCL.
As general manager of the Inter-City baking chain Morrison was widely known as a heartless and dictatorial employer. When Prime Minister R. B. Bennett slashed civil-service salaries ten percent in the Thirties, Morrison promptly cut all his workers ten per cent across Canada. “1 didn’t have to,” he says. “I just latched on to Bennett’s action as a smart excuse.”
Today a lot of Morrison’s working time is spent thinking up new ways to promote the welfare of his employees. A retirement pension is paid for ent irely by t he company. The bakers, to name one group, have a razzle-dazzle bonus scheme which gives them an extra twenty bucks a week. An unusually generous sickness-insurance scheme has no top limit, no escape mechanisms: a man with heart trouble was carried for five years; a worker with a blue baby has already been granted fifteen hundred dollars in benefits and his child wall undergo a surgical operation at Toronto’s Sick Children’s Hospital.
Because many of his workers desperately needed a decent place to live Morrison built houses which his employees can own even though they can’t afford a down payment. Armand Quinn, for example, a baker who used to live in a congested emergency shelter with his wife and six children, now has a brand-new three-bedroom house. When he discovered that some of the employees in the new homes needed refrigerators, stoves and washing machines, Morrison promptly bought them at fifteen per cent cash discount, passing on the saving to his workers and allowing them to repay the loan at a low interest.
Employees with grievances don’t have to mutter nasty things about the boss in the locker rooms. Instead, they call an Eatin’ Meetin’—a meeting
held around a steak
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dinner, at which labor and management discuss grievances. When a MorrisonLamothe driver is involved in a traffic accident he’s invited to appear before a sympathetic accident committee. A man who recently had two accidents was not punished: he was given a fiveddlar raise and shifted to day work to make his home life more pleasant.
A driver caught keeping money was not turned over to police. Instead he and his wife spent an evening in the oak-paneled den of Morrison’s home. Here Morrison, with the help of his wife Margaret, spent hours untangling the domestic difficulties which led to the theft. The man left with a better job and has since become one of the company’s best salesmen.
To make sure his executive has caught the spirit of “putting people ahead of things” Morrison meets with his six keymen every Friday morning. Aí recent meetings, Bob Bell, who had had a heart attack, was shifted to lighter work on the special delivery truck; Gerard Cote, a baker, was loaned eight hundred dollars to help buy a heuse he wanted.
Formerly Morrison used to wink at sharp business practices. How completely he changed can be measured by an incident which occurred in 1944 when, as bread and bakery administrator for the Wartime Prices and Control Board, he could only spend a few hours a week in the bakery. Indirectly he learned that his catering department staff was buying ham on the black market. After a long soulsearching session with his executives he inserted a large display ad in the Ottawa newspapers headed, “An Apology for our Ham Sandwiches.” He confessed the black market purchases and promised it would never happen again.
Cecil Morrison’s new moral code completely revamped his family life. Rarely at home he used to tell his wife, “You run your house, I’ll run my business.” Today he boasts of his wife and three attractive brunette daughters — Jean, 26, Marguerite, 22, and Gay, 19—“They know everything I’ve got, everything I do.”
More Flour, More Dough
His day starts at eight in the morning when the family gathers around a magnificent Italian walnut carved fireplace, seated on chairs that once belonged to Sir John A. Macdonald. The girls discuss their plans for the day or problems arising from dates, school or clothes. Morrison will bring up business or personal problems which are troubling him. “We try to find the mind of God in making our decisions together,” he says.
Morrison receives strong support from his wife in promoting a friendly feeling between management and labor at his plant. Thus there was nothing unusual about Margaret Morrison joining a bunch of bakery wives at the Hull home of driver Sabourin to stuff Christmas giraffes and elephants for the children. Mrs. Morrison was also given the delicate task of visiting one of the bakers who reported serious marital difficulties. She found the wife, bored by a steady diet of housework and children, had gone to work in a restaurant. This gave the couple practically no time together. After several visits it was decided the wife should work a few hours a day— an arrangement that left everybody happy.
Morrison is a chronic optimist who
punctuates his conversation with smiles, grins and chuckles. Because of his consistent good humor he is known far and wide as the Happy Baker. Morrison, who takes this title seriously, says, “I regard it as a sin to be in a bad mood. I feel that I should be able to rise above it.” At sixty he tends to be rotund, is partially grey and his hair line is receding. He talks in a warm pleasant voice and gives the impression that he would look very much at home in a Santa Claus costume instead of the conservative brown double-breasted suit he usually wears.
“I’m a simple guy with no accomplishments except that I love people and want to help them,” he says.
To translate his philosophy into practice Morrison has sat down with his employees and worked out a number of interesting arrangements with them. The bread bakers, for example, have a bonus plan whereby they are required to use up 1,250 bags of flour each week; for every extra bag used one dollar bonus is added to the department payroll. Usually the 40 bread bakers divide up eight hundred dollars each week. Of take the
men in the cake department: managt ment said it would be satisfied if laba' costs were held to 8.25 per cent of the value of the goods produced. The* cakemen forced the cost down to 6.74 per cent and pocket forty-two dollars extra every four weeks.
The bonus schemes have resulted in high production and efficiency. Without increasing their hours of labor one bread-baking crew upped their output thirty per cent. Absenteeism is near thj zero mark and labor turnover is low.
Under the Happy Baker’s health-
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and-welfare program all employees are protected by a life-insurance policy (ranging from $1000 to $3000), as well as sickness-and-accident insurance on and off the job for themselves and their families. The latter is completely a family affair, sponsored and administered by a joint committee of labor and management.
Staff nurse Dorothy Cowan spends most of her time outside the plant. Some of her assignments have included reassuring a terrified young wife that she was not becoming mentally ill like her older sister, tending a premature baby for six weeks, obtaining housekeepers for sick wives. It was Nurse Cowan who kept sending distressing memos to the boss about the housing conditions of some of his workers. Morrison thereupon decided to build houses for those who needed them.
“But you’re in the bread business,” commented one of his competitors. “Why on earth build houses?”
Retorted Morrison: “Why on earth shouldn’t I? My business is also people’s happiness.”
“We Play Fast Hockey Here”
Working with Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation and applying the mass production techniques learned in bread-baking Morrison was able to erect houses two thousand dollars cheaper than the prevailing market price. The highest priced house— $8,000—has three bedrooms, an oil furnace, a 50-by-90 lot, No. 1 hardwood floors, a large dry basement. Employees pay forty-one dollars a month, which covers principal and interest. For some employees who did not have the down payment, services like landscaping and floor varnishing were accepted instead. Thirteen houses have already been built, with thirtyone more planned. “I get a warm feeling every time I pass those houses,” says Morrison.
Such solicitude on the part of management has had a profound effect on the workers. For example, Tommy Ridge, 47, who works in the storeroom, was a hardened, boss-hater when he came to work in the plant seventeen years ago. “After watching Morrison for a few years,” says Ridge, “I was convinced he wasn’t out to skin us, I knew we could always count on a square deal without scrapping all the time.” Morrison and Ridge are personal friends who visit back and forth in each other’s homes.
Morrison has a stock answer to those who think he’s a softie in business. “We’re not namby-pamby just because we mix business and ideals,” he says. “We play fast hockey here.”
Morrison’s fast hockey playing started the first moment he took over the rundown plant on Echo Drive in 1933. After the day’s bread was baked and delivered the boss and his staff of nineteen scrubbed, painted and patched the shabby plant. “It looked hopeless,” says Morrison, “but with my new faith I wasn’t frightened.”
Morrison mixed a lot of ingenuity with his faith. He cornered the hot-dog and hamburger-bun business at the Ottawa Exhibition by being the first to introduce conveniently sliced buns. He began to compete for the summerresort trade in the Norway Bay and Constance Bay area where sales traditionally went to the baker who got there first. The roads in this area are sandy and by carefully learning the tire markings of his competitors’ trucks, then “reading the road,” Morrison and his men were able to reach settlements not yet covered by the other bakers. Within a few years he had most of the resorts to himself.
Doug Beaton, who works route No. 5, is regarded as a good example of a salesman who practices MorrisonLamothe principles. He’s a good friend of his customers and has first-hand knowledge of the birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, or teas they are planning. Naturally, extra bread or sweet goods are required on such occasions and Beaton is ready with a tempting display. “Our salesmen are guaranteed a weekly minimum of forty dollars,” says Morrison, “but I don’t want any forty-dollar men working for me.”
Morrison branched into the catering business in 1935. His catering department consisted of a few women making sandwiches until May, 1939, when he was given the job of catering for the five thousand guests at King George Vi’s birthday party, which was held on the lawn of Rideau Hall.
The highlight of the party for Morrison was his encounter with royalty. When the King failed to cut the first slice off the three-thousandpound Morrison - Lamothe birthday cake because of the thickness of the almond icing, Morrison went to the rescue. “Jolly good cake!” observed the grateful monarch, munching away at the rich confection. Morrison, who recognizes a promotion gimmick when it stares him in the face, soon after began turning out Royal Fruit Cake which has since become a best seller.
The Happy Baker’s biggest catering job began with a phone call from the palace of Archbishop Vachon of Ottawa in February 1947. Would Morrison take on the job of feeding six hundred and fifty thousand people who would be attending the week-long Marian Congress? Sure, said Morrison, j No formal agreement was drawn up. j Morrison was to serve good food, ! charge reasonable prices, take what he regarded as a fair share of the profit and turn the rest over to the arrangements committee.
During the week of the congress Morrison served 1,200,000 soft drinks, used 35 tons of wieners, 2 tons of cheese and tons of ham for sandwiches, l]/¿ tons of coffee and 10 carloads of paper spoons and cups. More than 500 :
temporary employees were taken on, ! plus 200 boys to gather in the empty pop bottles. So much money came pouring in that it took six trained j bank tellers and a manager to count the bills; the silver was merely weighed in hundred pound lots.
Perhaps Cecil Morrison understands his bakers so well because he has been a baker most of his adult life. At eighteen he quit the family farm at Bristol, Que., and went fifty miles to Ottawa to take a business course. After nine months with a delivery company (where he learned how to lay out routes) and seven years with a bank (where he learned keeping accounts and financing) he joined Dick Lamothe in setting up a small bakery in 1914.
By 1927 the partners were able to sell out for $670,000 to the Inter-City baking chain, with Morrison kept on as general manager until he was fired in 1932. Dick Lamothe has been associated in business with Morrison most of his life. However, in recent years he has not been very active in the Morrison-Lamothe Bakery.
An expansion program scheduled to cost four hundred thousand dollars is now under way at the MorrisonLamothe Bakery. Poking about the growing skeletons of the new buildings, the Happy Baker chats and jokes with the workmen. He radiates cheerfulness, confident that bigger and better things lie ahead.
“For how can you fail,” he asks, “when you’ve got hold of the right idea and you live by it?” +