Tuesday, December 31, 2013

White Trucks

Cash & Dad's Fifth Year and a Half

Hey Cash, this is Gramps!

Your dad asked me to write this blog about Harry D. Weller, Jr., my father, your Dad’s Grandfather and hence your Great Grandfather. He was a remarkable man in many ways and your Dad thought you should know about him—and a bit about his wife, my mother.

My Dad was born in Lancaster, PA in 1913.  Lancaster is Pennsylvania Dutch Country, i.e. a lot of Amish and Mennonite folks. His mother’s mother was Mennonite. He was a great athlete and was very smart (like your Dad). His parents were high school teachers and his father was a legendary football coach—even when I was in high school (1957-59)!

He went to Franklin & Marshall College on an athletic scholarship (first in his family to go to college). He is listed as one of their most famous alumni. He wanted to be an archeologist because of his interest in history but did not think he could make a living—remember this was during the Depression. His first job was to manage a Firestone Tire store in Cleveland—that still exists. He moved the family to Hartford, Connecticut where we lived for 5 years. Then we moved to Buffalo, NY for 3 years. Following which we moved to Cleveland for 1 year when he joined the White Motor Company. At this time I was in 6th grade. After 1 year we moved to Bronxville, NY, a suburb of New York City. He was made District Manager of White for the Northeast Region. (BTW, Bronxville was the 7th school I attended by that time.) White made heavy duty trucks, the “tractor” part of Semis. They competed directly with Mack Trucks which you may know. Also they sold Freightliner trucks which White did not own and were even more expensive and customized. Ford, International Harvester and GM made less expensive and less customized trucks. It is important to note that in the 50’s and 60’s President Eisenhower started building the Interstate Highway System. This major infrastructure investment resulted in many things but an important one that it made the trucking industry highly competitive with the railroad industry, in fact more competitive for freight hauling.

After a few years he was promoted to Regional Manager for the Eastern half of the country. And between my Junior and Senior years in Bronxville High, he was promoted to be Vice President of Sales for the entire company and the family moved to Cleveland. I stayed in Bronxville for my Senior Year with a friend’s family. My friend, Bruce Beebe, is your father’s Godfather! (We are still in touch.) I was Co-Captain of the Bronxville Football Team so my moving where I did not know anyone would have been painful. My brother, Chuck and Sister Judy did move. He was in 9th grade and Judy 7th. Following high school I went to Denison in Ohio and following that went in the Navy, getting commissioned as an officer at Navy OCS. (Your Dad was commissioned as a Naval Officer upon graduating from Duke and their ROTC program.)

As VP of Sales for White Motor White increased their share of the heavy duty truck market from 18% to 23%. Dad was eventually promoted to President of the White Motor Company and was a pretty important guy in Cleveland’s business community. An important element in Dad’s approach to sales was that he insisted that he find what trucking companies needed as distinct from many manufacturer’s approach at the time was that the sales operation should sell what the company made—period. As a side note, he became a member of the Pepper Pike Country Club, and exclusive club for top executives. I mention this because after a round of golf with my Dad and your Dad at the club I took a picture of both of them on the 18th green which turned out to have significant consequences because Reggie included in your Dad’s application to Duke and when your Dad attended a party for the new Duke freshman class the Admissions Director noted your Dad and said “so you are the golfer!” I’m certain that picture helped the Acceptance Committee remember your Dad and helped with his acceptance!

I think what your Dad wanted you guys to know is what happened to White Motor and my Dad. In 1966 President Kennedy moved to settle a major steel industry strike by making major industries to accept industry wide collective bargaining where unions would bargain with one of the companies and their contract would be what all other companies in that industry would have to accept. This applied to the automotive industry as it turned out. This created a problem for White because White was a much smaller company that the big automakers. The big three automakers could absorb the costs of the wage levels and importantly the work rules, whereas White could not and still make a profit. So the top management of the White Motor company sought a way to return to profitability and decided to get in the Agricultural Equipment business by buying small Ag companies that made certain devices, (tractors, combines, etc.) that when combined would make them a major Ag Equipment force to compete with Deere and others. Additionally, they started building an engine plant in Massillon, Ohio to make engines for both White and the Ag manufacturers. White Motor used Cummins Engines and were vulnerable should the Cummins Engines lose their competitive edge against other diesel engine manufactures. All these acquisitions and the engine plant caused two major problems. The least was that despite White buying a company that made diesel engines for ships, they never developed a competitive engine for trucks. The major, and eventually fatal issue was that to acquire those companies and build the plant, they took on a substantial amount of debt! When I was in Business School at Columbia White had no debt! But their buying spree and debt accumulation occurred after I got out of Columbia in 1968. A related problem to the debt which to this day I do not know how was overlooked was that unlike truck dealers, Ag dealers took their equipment on consignment, meaning they did not pay White until the equipment was sold. Truck dealers pay when they receive their trucks! This meant that White had to absorb the cost of the Ag dealer’s inventory which created a severe cash crunch for the White Motor Corporation. Recall, my father was the President of the White Truck Division. Because of this during a recession in the early 70’s White Motor Corporation was facing bankruptcy!

There was another company in Cleveland named White Consolidate. At that time an entirely different company that was what was called a “conglomerate,” that is they owned companies in many different industries. They made and imported White Sewing Machines, appliances that Sears put their name on, etc. The man who had built White Consolidated, Ed Reddig, wanted to buy White Motor and could afford to pay down their debt and restructure the company. He traveled with Dad around the company closing inefficient plans. And he wanted to reorganize the Ag operation---it turned out there was equipment still sitting on Ag dealers’ lots that could be over 3 years old! Unfortunately, a Federal Judge ruled in 1970 that White would be monopolistic if White Consolidated bought White Motor and thus killed the merger! Had that gone through my father would have been quite wealthy as most of his assets were in White stock. (The same judge, Batiste, ruled that students in Cleveland schools needed to be bussed to integrate the schools---and that destroyed the Cleveland School System which is still trying to recover.) White and their financiers then brought in “Bunkie” Knudson, son of a very famous man who mobilized US industry for WWII. “Bunkie” was a car guy who had been at GM and Ford. Dad and “Bunkie” clashed on several fronts, most important being that Dad was focused on selling highly customized fleets of trucks to operators and “Bunkie” had more of a “car dealer” mindset.” “Bunkie” fired Dad. Amusingly, when “Bunkie” joined White Motor he was proclaimed Cleveland’s “man of the year.” One year later he moved White Motor out of Cleveland to Greensboro, NC.

Ed Reddig then hired Dad to run the Hupp Company, which originally was an electric car company around 1910. When Dad became President of Hupp it was a mini conglomerate itself and he spent a good bit of his time weeding out non profitable elements. Reddig died before the terms that Reddig had offered Dad were completed and the new President of White did not honor all of Reddig’s commitments. After two or three years Dad retired. He did not handle retirement well unfortunately. After being extremely active and important, he told my sister that “Well, I guess now I’m just an old fart!” He suffered a stroke about 6 months later. He lived for about 3 or 4 years but his speech and walking were impaired, he was an invalid. That’s when I left Atlanta and came up to help my mother take care of him.

Couple other things I’ll mention. The year I was born (1941) he was club champion at the Canterbury Country Club in Cleveland. In the 80”s he was President of the Mayfield Country Club. He played Professional Football for one year in the 30’s. However Pro Football in the 30’s was infinitely different than now, he got $200 per game! Another thing to be aware of—Dad traveled all the time. The airplanes he traveled in were prop planes—jets had not been introduced yet. White’s corporate plane was a Beechcraft G18, a twin radial engine prop. Point here is that prop planes could not fly up over storms like jets—they had to fly in the clouds and in turbulence.



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