In the Fall of 1977, everything was going well at Adcom Wire Company under our new ownership by Leggett and Platt and I already had a good relationship with the man I reported to, Frank Ford, the Leggett Executive VP in Carthage, Missouri. He invited me to visit the Head Office and meet the president, Harry Cornell and the other managers. I felt quite good when he told me to bring my golf shoes.
Harry Cornell’s hobby was big game hunting and his office was adorned on every wall with stuffed animal heads. I got a laugh from him when I said that I should expect my head to soon be up there if Adcom didn’t come up to his expectations. I toured the main wire drawing and the mattress frame assembly shops and came away very impressed with everything I saw. We had lunch at the Carthage Golf Club which I realized was totally dominated by Leggett members and seemed to be the principal place to dine in the evenings. After lunch the president left us and we played a round of golf with two other visiting managers, rented clubs being provided for us. I found it to be a nice challenging course and that Frank Ford was a seven handicap player, giving me three strokes which I needed to avoid being beaten.
Frank explained the expectations for the quarterly review meetings and also told me I would be on the Steel Committee. This entailed being in Carthage, or sometimes in St. Louis, for randomly called meetings discussing the availability and pricing of our raw material, hot rolled steel rod. The participants were Frank Ford, three other non-Carthage wire plant managers and an executive from Leggett’s principal supplier, Armco Steel. Frank said they were particularly interested in my ability to comment on quality, availability and pricing of our foreign suppliers.
I forgot to mention earlier that on 6th of February, 1977 our British American Club celebrated Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee with a big party and we went to the Mayor’s office to receive a plaque declaring the month of February, “Jubilee Month.” Her actual Coronation was delayed until 2nd of June 1953 in deference to the mourning period for her father, King George VI.
Towards the end of 1977, I heard of a new golf group called the Senior Golfers Association that organized three day visits to the top echelon of golf clubs and I immediately asked for details and membership application requirements. They sent me their most recent newsletter describing the events that would be offered for 1978 and it was an attractive program, if a bit on the expensive side. They charged a fixed fee that included three rounds of golf, three cocktail parties, three dinners and three breakfasts for each of a party of two as well as a program for non-playing spouses. The only extra cost would be for lunches and for drinks at dinner. We joined and signed up for our first trip which was to Mission Inn in Orlando, FL. (In the next 19 years, we went to a total of 27 of their golf events including Bermuda and Pebble Beach).
As we started 1978, Nigel had graduated from Georgia Tech and was working for a water treatment company, Nick had graduated from Vanderbilt and was working for the Murfreesboro, Tennessee newspaper and Melanie was just graduating from the Florida School of Arts, was working at jobs in Jacksonville and contemplating applying to Florida State University. She had had a lot of trouble with her Chevy Vega and its aluminum engine and at the same time Doris was getting unhappy with her Buick Apollo. While searching for a Toyota for Melanie, Doris found just the car she wanted, another Toyota but a small station wagon, the features of which were perfect for shopping. The net result was that I found myself trading two cars and $10,000 for two brand new 1977 Toyotas. (The first time, and I hope the last, that I paid cash for two cars on the same day.)
In the Adcom wire plant, there were several onerous jobs such as working in the hot acid fumes of the cleaning house and monitoring the baths of molten lead and zinc in the galvanizing bay. We had considerable turn-over in these jobs and many times we hired “snowbirds,” workers from the North coming south for work and passing through Jacksonville on their way. Their tenure with us was usually short and many left with no notice, often not even waiting to collect their pay. These workers, and some of our more recent hires had previously worked in unionized plants and started stirring up our employees with union talk.
A labor relations representative magically appeared and was often seen addressing groups of men and we were not overly surprised when we heard that there was going to be a vote to decide if they should have a union. Our long-time employees were in general, satisfied with their jobs, especially since we had added several incentive programs, but they were out-voted and we received a petition announcing a one year union contemplation period, after which there would be an official vote to decide.
In this period, we were forbidden by labor laws to change anything such as raises, incentives, firings, shift changes and any of our work rules. When I reported this to Carthage, I was told that Leggett had had the same experience at some of their locations over the years and had an experienced lawyer on retainer for such events and that he would be sent to guide us as soon as possible. When this lawyer came we found him to be very experienced in union matters and he gave us lengthy instructions on what we could and could not do. In general, all we could do was to tell the employees all the things we would like to do but could not for a year because our hands were tied. We were able to say that we had ordered better protection such as masks, gloves and emergency breathing apparatus for the cleaning house and large cooling fans for the galvanizing department but could not use them until the year was up. In general, we will listen to and act on all complaints in the future but not now.
Operating under this strain required a little more concentration and care in what we said to employees but other than that, things went along quite normally. Nearer the end of 1978, we started making hints about the future and showed real concern for our key employees since we were relying on them to defeat the vote. The election result when it came is another memory for another day.