THE BOSS: WHO NEEDS LOVE?
John Valentine Clyne, a BC Supreme Court justice turned flinty business baron, is one of the west coast's most powerful men. Critics denounce him as tough, ruthless, arrogant. He doesn't care. He is unquestioned master of BC's giant forest industry: he'll leave popularity to lesser men
IT HAS BEEN NEARLY 10 years since the Hon. John Valentine Clyne left the bench to become one of the two or three most powerful men in British Columbia, but his boardroom meetings still resemble a session of the Supreme Court. The $30,000-plus men who help him run the country's biggest forest-products firm always arrive a few minutes early for Clyne's Friday morning meetings. They sit around the long boardroom table, lounging or chatting or shuffling papers like lawyers getting ready for a long day in court. Then, at precisely 10.30, the Hon. J. V. Clyne, the master of MacMillan Bloedel Limited, strides into the boardroom. No one calls, “Order in the court!” and there is no magisterial swirl of black robes as he takes his place at the head of the long table. But the whiff of authority is unmistakable. Suddenly, everyone sits a little straighter. The conversations fade and there is no more shuffling as Clyne settles his large frame, gazes at his assembled vice-presidents and department heads, gives a prim smile and asks. “Gentlemen, shall we begin?”
They do begin, instantly, and some of the things they talk about could affect the pocketbooks of several hundred thousand people. The forest industry is almost preposterously important in BC — nearly half the money made in the province comes from trees — and MacMillan Bloedel cuts more of them than anyone else. And so, when the vice-presidents look up the table at Clyne and report on the state of repair of the company's airplanes or the threat of a British dockers’ strike, they measure their words with care. They know that decisions made in this room can cause a flutter on Wall Street, a flap in the provincial cabinet or a bellicose roar from 100 union halls.
Early this summer, the deliberations in the ninth-floor boardroom were a matter of crucial concern to almost everyone in BC. The lumber unions w'ere in a militant mood. If the companies decided to be equally militant, it could mean a disastrous, summer-long strike that would turn one of the world’s most prosperous areas into something approaching a depression zone. Clyne, as boss of the biggest lumber firm, was a key factor in the big chess game. Fate in June he received a mediator’s report which, if accepted by the industry, would cost $40.9 million over two years. And the unions were pressuring hard. Late in June, before a strike had been declared, 14,000 workers walked off the job in what union officials ingenuously described as a “spontaneous” gesture by workers who were fed up with waiting for a raise. But would there be tin official strike? Late in June, nobody knew. A lot depended on the Hon. John Valentine Clyne. Which waiy would he jump?
Fiere in the boardroom, among men he trusts, Clyne displays a charm and civility that do not jibe with his public image. At first glance, he is pure Big Business: the well-cut suit, the paunch, the steely, bespectacled gaze. But anyone exposed to his mind for more than 20 minutes revises this first impression. There is a certain gaiety here, a whiff of old Noel Coward drawing-room comedies that you catch / continued on page 34
THE BOSS continued from page 22
“I’ve said things labor doesn’t like —but they’re true”
in a nicely turned phrase or a theatrical wave of the hand. And then there is this tremendous intellect: he reads until two in the morning nearly every night, and has been known to quote Euripides and Marshall McLuhan in the same breath.
These are attractive attributes, but they are not readily marketable ones. As a result, the public J. V. Clyne is one of the most widely disliked men in British Columbia. The adjectives most frequently applied to him are tough, blunt, ruthless, arrogant and ambitious.
"There’s no humility or kindness in his character," says one of his loudest critics. “When you've had the power to hang people, it's not easy to make friends.”
“He fires executives like they were office boys.” says another nonadmirer. “He’s only H. R. MacMillan’s hatchet-man.”
Whatever he is, scholarly charmer or corporate man-eater, J. V. Clyne is indisputably The Boss: in command of his company, and of a disconcertingly large proportion of the province's economy. More important, he is in superb command of himsell. Perhaps that is why so many people dislike him.
Much of the ill will stems from the amalgamation of MacMillan Bloedel with Powell River Company Limited. The merger made brilliant economic sense, but it also turned out to be one of the stormiest marriages in the history of Canadian capitalism. Clyne presided over a series of purges that cleansed the new company of nearly all its senior Powell River executives, including Powell River’s former chairman, Harold Foley. This exercise earned Clyne a permanent reputation for ruthlessness. And on one famous occasion shortly afterward. he enhanced it at a very social costume party by dumping a glass of Scotch over Foley's distinguished white head.
This incident titillated Shaughnessy Heights for an entire season, but Clyne’s penchant for trouble often has even more lasting effects. There was the time in 1964. for instance, when his refusal to settle a strike of 47 office workers in Port Alberni practically brought the economy of upper Vancouver Island to a standstill. Before it ended. 4,000 workers were idle and the company was losing $500,000 per day in lost production. It took the personal intervention of Premier Bennett to budge Clyne. And it may be significant that, instead of summoning him to Victoria for a tongue-lashing. Bennett dropped in for
a chat late one night at Clyne's own house. “T hat strike cost plenty,” says Jack Moore, western regional president of the IWA, “but Clyne wasn't going to knuckle under to 47 office workers, no matter what the cost.”
The incident typifies Clyne’s dealings with BC’s super - militant labor movement. A month after his appointment as chairman, he used a Board of Trade luncheon as the platform for a testy harangue against rising wage costs in general, and BC’s labor leaders in particular. Coming as it did from a man reported to be earning at least $75,000 a year, Clyne's appeal for watge restraint drew hoots of derision from the labor leaders he w'as attempting to instruct.
Undeterred, Clyne has persisted ever since in making speeches that, although never intended to be antilabor, invariably sound that way. But Clyne is unrepentant. “I know I've said things that labor doesn't like,” he says, “but they’re true.”
This is the biggest thing about J. V. Clyne: he has this supreme, lordly indifference to criticism. He believes, more than anything, in the clear-cut difference between right and wrong. And once he’s decided which course is right, trying to dissuade him is like arguing with Siwash Rock. “He's not a compromiser,” says one associate. “For J. V., the smallest principle can be the biggest factor in a decision.”
Principle was certainly the largest factor in his reluctance to settle the Alberni office - workers’ strike. A closed-shop contract was the major bargaining point, and it wasn’t only the unions that were urging him to settle. As the strike wore on, pressure grew from within his own company to cut the losses. But Clyne was damned if he would budge.
“I refused to be a party to forcing an office worker to join a union,” he explains. “I believe in fighting these things through, and I was right. As a result, the people in Alberni who didn't want to join a union weren't forced to do so.”
Principles are pure and perfect things, but people never are. In any conflict between the two. Clyne has always opted for principle. T his is a lot easier to do if you stay aloof from people, and it's the basis of an oftenheard charge: that Clyne is insulated and remote, woefully out of touch with that portion of the human race that does not inhabit MacMillan Bloedel's ninth-floor executive suite. “The only thing he's seen of life." says one of his critics, “is the courthouse and the Vancouver Club."
Well, that's putting it a little
strongly. In 64 years of living he has been, among other things, a cowboy in the Cariboo, a placer miner in the Monashee Mountains, a deckhand on a Europe-bound freighter anil -— this may come as a piece of news to the IWA — a humble working stiff in a Vancouver sawmill. But he performed these exotic jobs during his summer recesses from the University of British Columbia in the 1920s. His activities when school was in session were less proletarian. In 1922 he helped organize the Great Trek, a student protest movement that prompted a dilatory provincial government to shift the site of UBC from ramshackle downtown quarters to its present site on Point Grey. He also doubled, if you please, as an actor, at one point playing the male lead of Valentine in a semi-professional production of Shaw’s You Never Can Yell. The leading lady’s name was Betty Somerset. and Clyne married her four years later.
After UBC, Clyne settled down to pursue the career of an ambitious
lawyer. He spent a year in London attending the London School of Economics and working in a solicitor's office, then returned to BC and joined a law firm in Prince Rupert. It was here that he scored one of his more notable courtroom victories. He defended an elderly Indian woman named Maggie on one of her weekly drunkenness charges. After the prosecutor had droned through his routine evidence, Clyne arose and said, "Your worship. I submit that this woman cannot be charged under the Indian Act. The Crown has not proved she is an Indian." The young counsel was right: the case was dismissed.
Soon afterward. Clyne returned to Vancouver to specialize in maritime law. a field which involves much less contact with drunken Indians and other fallible humans. He was very good at it — so good, in fact, that by 1947. when the federal government decided to form a Canadian Maritime Commission to regulate the country's merchant shipping. Clyne was the inevitable choice as its first chairma n.
Then, in 1950, came the final recognition of a brilliant legal career: he was appointed to BC's Supreme Court. He quickly won a reputation for fairness and thoroughness. By 1954. the sear he cited Vancouver Province columnist Eric Nicol for contempt of court, he'd won a reputation for toughness as well. After Clyne had sentenced a young murderer to hang. Nicol had written an allegorical column which referred to the jury as "the 12 people who planned the murder" and to the judge who "caused the victim to suffer the exquisite torture of anticipation." These unflattering references cost Nicol $250 and his newspaper $2,500, and Clyne's judgment in the case revealed something of the man. He condemned Nicol's assumption that society had driven the murderer to commit the crime. This philosophy, Clyne wrote, "emphasizes the importance of causes and minimizes the importance ol the choice by the individual between good and evil."
Clyne loves the law and has a scholar's instincts, but he is also a restless man. He paces a lot. He is attracted by the world of action. And much of his work as a judge, while important, was also stupendously boring. All those lunches at the Devonshire Hotel must have got pretty boring, too. That's where all the judges eat: the lawyers know it and usually eat somewhere else. ‘I he judicial /noduli was starting to get him down.
And so. when H. R. MacMillan asked him to leave the bench to run his lumber company. Clyne thought about it for several weeks and then accepted. It was by far the biggest job of his life, for it involved melding two highlv dissimilar companies. MacMillan-Bloedel and Powell River, into a smoothly functioning integrated unit. As it turned out. the job was impossible.
There was no question that the merger was economically sound. Bloede! had all those hungry newscontinued on pupe 38
THE BOSS continued
“If it’s wrong, don’t be tolerant”
print machines and Powell River had all those trees. But once the merger was effected on a 60-40 basis, with Powell River as the junior partner, it became apparent that machines and trees are easier to integrate than people. 'The styles of the two companies were hopelessly incompatible.
Harold Foley's Powell River company was humane, paternalistic and not visibly obsessed by efficiency. Nearly all its employees lived in one proud town, and the Foley brothers knew most of them by their first names. MacMillan Bloedel was a dilferent, tougher proposition. Employees tended to live in bunkhouses, not bungalows, and it was a lot easier to get fired. The work was chancy and seasonal. The competition was tougher, and so were the men. it was the marriage of a gentle, conventretired virgin and a hard-boozing, undomesticated lumberjack.
The showdown came a year later, and the details are still unclear. But it is known that Harold Foley, as vicechairman. decided to do something that Clyne fell he was not empowered to do. If there ever had been any doubt exactly who was boss, the FoleyC'lyne confrontation quickly dispelled it. Clyne rendered his verdict, the board of directors confirmed it and that was that. Foley was out.
His letter of resignation, which he sent to Clyne and to the newspapers, was an astonishing document. He said the merger had been effected on the understanding that Powell River men would have equal representation on the board of directors and executive committee of the new company. Clyne’s role was “to fulfill the duties of an impartial chairman.” But in the past year, Foley wrote, 10 key Powell River executives had quit their jobs, and both the executive committee and the board of directors had been trimmed to give MacMillan’s men a majority. “Your prejudiced attitude and actions since the amalgamation, contrary to all our understandings, leave me no alternative but to conclude that I can be of no further use to the [company] while you remain as chairman,” Foley w'rote.
The mopping-up operations took another year, and ended in 1962 with the resignation of four remaining Powell River directors who had considered allowing the St. Regis Paper Company to buy effective control of MBPR. “Here,” says Clyne, “were directors trying to sell their shares above the market price to deliver control of their company to a competitor. You just don't do that sort of thing. This isn’t the 1880s.”
That was the end of what was always a pretty unequal struggle. Clyne and H. R. MacMillan (now 80, as cranky as ever and still one of the major shareholders) are indisputably in command. For students ol corporate pugilism, it was an enjoyable, wellfought bout. But it ended, alter all, four years ago. and has tended ever since to obscure a much more important consideration: that under Clyne’s stewardship, MacMillan Bloedel has become a very dynamic company.
It has become one of our great ex-
porters — the company did business in 55 countries last year — and, under the Clyne regime, has taken some bold steps to stay that way. Fast year the company bought into British box factories and paper mills in Belgium, Holland and Spain. This year it has joined with United Fruit Company to build a $50 million mill in Alabama, which will produce, among other things, the bruise-proof lining for millions of crates of Chiquita bananas. The whole point of these and other foreign acquisitions that have been made is to ensure that there will always be a stable world demand for MacMillan Bloedel’s products — and what better way to ensure this than by buying a piece of your customers? “We've got to protect our markets.” Clyne keeps telling people, and he means it.
He's also managed to change the company’s style. MacMillan Bloedel used to be run on the reign-of-terror principle in H. R.'s day. Now, under Clyne. enthusiasm appears to be the motive force. “People don't just take off at five." says a young lawyer who recently left an immense bureaucracy to join MacMillan Bloedel. “They're interested in what they're doing." The new style is paying off in some aggressively modern ideas — computers that will decide which logs go to which mill; specially designed barges the size of football fields to ship Powell River newsprint to California: a revamped marketing setup in Britain that cuts out a thicket of genteel middlemen; and, finally, a new, 27-story building in downtown Vancouver, which, says Clyne. will not contain an executive dining room. He is a great believer in walking somewhere to lunch.
SO THERE HE IS: .). V. ( I.YNE. Stcelyeyed Captain of Industry, pacing around on his mustard-yellow carpeting up there on the ninth floor, with half the province wondering what he'll do next. Out his window he can see his lumber steaming out Vancouver Harbor on its way to Japan or Australia. To the north, just beyond the close - crowded mountains, are the trees, millions upon millions of them. They’ll always be there (the company plants four for every tree it cuts) and 100 years from now, or 200, those lumber-laden ships will still be steaming out of the harbor below.
But just now, J. V. Clyne is not thinking about his vast green empire. He has his hands in his pockets as he gazes out the window, and he is talking about ethics. Your generation is too tolerant, he is telling a visitor. You should not be tolerant of things that are not right.
He turns and looks hard at his guest. “You must judge,” he says. “You must choose between right and wrong. You can get so that you don’t have any standards, so that you've got to be nice to everyone. That’s social dishonesty. Sure you can be Uncle Good, but that involves a great deal of hypocrisy.
"And so many people are willing to do it,” he adds softly. “So many people want to be loved. ★