• U.S.

Business: Banana Peeling

2 minute read

When Montgomery Ward & Co. lost $8,712,023 in 1931, the directors started searching for someone who could pull the big mail-order house out of the red. For $100,000 annual salary and an option on 100,000 shares of stock at $11 (now selling at $50), they got Sewell Lee Avery. Chicago’s No. 1 businessman and director of a dozen top-flight U. S. corporations, Mr. Avery won fame by nursing U. S. Gypsum Co. through Depression 1 with profits and dividends every year. Still more remarkable was his revival of Ward’s. It netted $2,227,957 in 1933, $9,161,054 in 1934, $13,527,310 in 1935, $20,198,914 in 1936, $19,210,029 in 1937 (earnings in each case from February of the given year through January of the following year). Net for six months ending July 31, 1938 was $5,139,526.

Last week, on his 64th birthday, able, amiable Sewell Avery moved from president to board chairman. Into his place stepped Raymond Henry Fogler, 46, quiet, serious, hard-working vice president in charge of operations, whom Mr. Avery hired away from W. T. Grant Co. in 1932. Born on a Maine farm and educated in a one-room schoolhouse before he went to the University of Maine and Princeton, studious Merchant Fogler has been at Sewell Avery’s right hand throughout the Ward renascence. Although Mr. Avery, who has the step and manner of a man of 50, will presumably continue dictating Montgomery Ward’s policies, he last year began retiring from active business life when he quit U. S. Gypsum’s presidency, which he had held for 32 years. Said he once to an inquisitive Ward stockholder: “I banana-peeled into this place and then couldn’t get out.”

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