Latest chairman plans to keep strategy intact


November 30, 1992|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

By the time he was 11, Bailey A. Thomas was already salesman.

He starting selling greeting cards door-to-door. Later, he branched out into flower seeds and Rosebud salve, an all-purpose ointment that could be used on a finger or an udder. And he tried to persuade his customers in rural Somerset County to order personalized packs of matches; that one didn't work.

RTC Today, 50 years later, Mr. Thomas has found a product, sales strategy and management style that do work. McCormick & Co. Inc. -- where Mr. Thomas is president -- has focused on its core spice business, emphasized quality and fostered a corporate culture of teamwork between worker and manager.

The results have been phenomenal. And now, Mr. Thomas, 61, hopes to keep that record of growing profits going as he takes over forCharles "Buzz" P. McCormick Jr., the chairman, on Jan. 1.

"There's going to be a lot of things that are going to happen," he said. "But there is not going to be a major change in the way we do business."

The company has profited from concentrating on what it knows best -- spices, flavorings and seasonings -- and selling unprofitable or secondary businesses. But Mr. Thomas also credits a company attitude that is chiseled into the keystone above the headquarters' entrance: "2 for 1."

Mr. Thomas explains it: "Think twice for the company and once for yourself, and the company will think twice for you and once for itself."

"We believe our success is because of the way we treat our people and the way the people treat the company," Mr. Thomas said.

This belief in "participative management" and teamwork is evident in the relationship of Mr. Thomas and Mr. McCormick.

Mr. Thomas said they hit it off immediately, and sometimes it was difficult to tell who was the boss. "We made decisions together and separately, without regard to who was the boss," Mr. Thomas said.

Mr. Thomas hopes the same chemistry can be repeated with the new president and chief operating officer, H. Eugene Blattman, who has worked for McCormick for four years since Gentry Foods Corp., where he was president and chief executive, was bought by McCormick in 1987.

Mr. Thomas came to Baltimore in 1949 to attend engineering classes at Johns Hopkins University. But after a year at Hopkins, he discovered he was more interested in business than in engineering. So he dropped out, got a job at Crosse & Blackwell, an English-owned food company with operations in Baltimore, and started taking accounting courses at night.

He received an accounting degree and stayed at Crosse & Blackwell for about 11 years, rising to assistant to the president. Then the company was bought by Nestle, and he was set to be transferred to the company's operation in White Plains, N.Y.

But some friends said he might want to look into working at McCormick. So halfheartedly, he went to McCormick for an interview in 1961.

"What I found at McCormick was so different, and so interesting and so exciting, and the people were so different, that I really became interested," he said.

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