Teamwork is the hallmark of firm's success


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

Charles "Buzz" P. McCormick Jr. likes to put himself down.

The 64-year-old chairman of McCormick & Co. Inc. says he has a bad memory, can't add, was a "lousy" student in college, wasn't a good salesman at first and isn't smart enough to tell his workers how to do their jobs.

Yet, somehow, he -- along with Bailey A. Thomas, the president -- have managed to keep profits soaring for years.

"I'm not smart enough to tell this company what it should do," Mr. McCormick said in a recent interview.

"I think I'm smart enough to realize that all of our people working together and being part of it can do a helluva job."

Mr. McCormick, who will step down as chairman of McCormick on Jan. 1., has made teamwork the centerpiece of his administration.

When Mr. McCormick and Mr. Thomas took the reins of the company in 1987, earnings for the company had been flat for several years.

"What we needed was leadership, with a clear vision as to what we wanted to do and what we didn't want to do," Mr. McCormick said. "So we had to tell our folks -- not how to do it -- but where we wanted them to go and where we didn't want to go."

To find the way, Mr. McCormick sent out a memo to executives and salespeople asking for help.

"We got this flood of letters," Mr. McCormick said, noting that there was almost 100 percent participation. "Through that, I had immediate clarity as to what we should do as a company," he said. "That really came from our people."

The company decided to focus on its core business of spices, seasonings and flavorings, and to divest of all other operations, particularly its large real estate holdings.

That decision was one of the company's greatest coups -- selling its real estate at the height of the market in 1989 for a profit of $83 million, just before the real estate crash. "The timing was dumb luck," Mr. McCormick said.

In 1989, McCormick cut off its last link to its hometown of Baltimore by closing its 68-year-old building on Light Street in 1989 and scratching plans to move headquarters back downtown into a modern office and retail complex.

"We didn't feel it made a lot of sense," Mr. McCormick said, noting that having the headquarters downtown would isolate it from manufacturing operations in Hunt Valley.

Instead of the downtown headquarters, McCormick built a corporate headquarters in Sparks, just north of Hunt Valley.

But the company did give a parting gift to the city in the form of a $2 million donation to the City that Reads Program, a project launched by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to fight illiteracy.

The grand nephew of the founder of the company, Mr. McCormick grew up with the business, which was headed by his father, Charles P. McCormick Sr.

In fact, Mr. McCormick's nickname, "Buzz," came from the company's old "Bee" brand. It was bestowed on him at the hospital where he was born by a nurse who made the connection between the familiar label and the infant.

He said he learned in the third grade that he didn't have a good memory, and he didn't add very well. "If you don't have those two things,you are not a very good student," he said.

His college career consisted of a year at Johns Hopkins xTC University and another year at Duke, interrupted by a year of working as a McCormick salesman in Chicago in 1947. It was in Chicago that he began to love this business.

"I got into the spirit of the competitive selling game and really loved it," he said.

But even in this endeavor, he gave himself low marks.

"I was a lousy salesman," he said. "I was kind of a shy, quiet little guy. I didn't have any born talent as a salesman. It was difficult for me, but I enjoyed it."

Moving up the corporate hierarchy in his 20s, Mr. McCormick expected one day to head the company, as his father had.

But that expectation waned in later years.

"I definitely did not consider myself a candidate -- neither did anybody else," Mr. McCormick said, adding that there were a number of qualified people ahead of him on the corporate ladder. When he was chosen to be the chief executive officer, he had been group vice president of packaging, which placed him on the company's board but not on its executive committee.

But after some earlier-than-expected retirements, former Chairman Harry K. Wells recommended that Mr. McCormick and Mr. Thomas take the top positions.

"I think it was one of those things of maybe the right team at the right time," Mr. McCormick said. "Harry felt that the skills that Bailey had and the skills that I had would work together well as the best team we could put together at that time. We needed to kick the organization somehow."


On March 18, 1987, the "Buzz and Bailey Show" was introduced to shareholders at McCormick & Co.'s annual meeting.

The show -- with Charles "Buzz" P. McCormick Jr. in the role of chairman and Bailey A. Thomas as president -- has played to rave reviews. During its five-year run, the company's stock shot up fivefold, and net income rose 160 percent.

In that time, the Sparks-based spice company ditched its old tin cans for plastic bottles and removed its last operation from Baltimore -- its birthplace.

Through it all, the two executives operated as a team. But the act that has been so good to McCormick is breaking up on Jan. 1 when Mr. McCormick retires and Mr. Bailey takes over as chairman.

Still, Mr. Bailey says the basic plot of the show will not change.

Here are their stories.

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