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John Clay - A Scottish Farmer
Chapter VI - As a Business Man


A man's success in business is judged by the results and when you get down to the kernel in the nut it means how much money he has made for himself or his employers. John Clay when he died left an estate that inventoried .60,000, and when you looked over the investments they are probably as clean a sheet as you could find. That he did this mostly out of fanning, after living in a generous style and educating a large family, is worthy of commendation and proved his ability. He and his wife were left in legacies all told about 5,000, so that the balance was the work of his own hand and brain. We merely bring up those figures as a prelude to our further remarks.

The Scotch are proverbially thrifty and our subject had his inheritance fully developed in his nature. A leading financier from Chicago was staying in Edinburgh and he tells this story which is apropos: Mr. Clay had called upon him at his hotel and after considerable talk he invited him to dinner, and, while explaining the way to get to his house by tram car, the Chicago friend said: "Don't bother, Mr. Clay, explaining further; we will take a cab;" which brought out the following reply: "Well, well, you can do as you like, but I never spend a shilling where tuppence will do." That was the motto of his life and he worked at it and improved upon it daily. In late years when he was much in London he never took a cab if a bus would do the work, and many a time he worked his way down from King's Cross to Westminister on the top of one, and he did this at a time when he had passed the stage of needing to be careful of his money. It was ingrained in his nature and it grew upon him as it has done on many another man. In the endless trips we have made with him he always had some coppers or a threepenny bit ready for an emergency. Even when a Chicago pickpocket relieved him of his purse he was little put about. " Ah," he said, "he got my old purse, which has served its day and generation, with 75 cents in it and my watch key, but he forgot my pouch with $100.00 in it. Hech, man, but it's a bad job about the watch key." Scottish thrift will do a lot but it takes some other agency to build up the pile, and John Clay had it. He was in the first place a master of his business. If in his younger days he had gone out into the world he would have made a grand success because he had the magnetism of drawing men to him. He could organize and he could also lead. As stated in the last chapter his employees stayed loyally by him. One man can do only so much, he must utilize the brains and brawn of others. His mastery of the detail of the farm was simply marvelous. To the last he kept in the closest touch with every move and even from his couch at Magdala Crescent he was constantly sending suggestions to his old steward at Wedderlie. The fire burned brightly to the very end. It was an object lesson at Kerchesters while the writer was there from 1867 to I877 (Jim Mabon being Steward) to listen to the confab that went on every night from 8:30 to 9:00 p. m. If the master had been away he got every detail put before him. The work of the day was chronicled in a diary, the writer being the scribe. Then the work was laid out for the next day in the most minute way; provision was even made against a change in the elements. The old weather glass got a vigorous tap every night as the parlor was entered. Ocasionally master and steward would differ about the work and sometimes the argument grew hot and heavy, once or twice in our recollection Jim Mabon being turned out of the room, but the next morning work went on as usual and nobody was hurt.

Aside from his thrift and power of detail he was progressive. He added, as soon as he had money, to his possessions and he went to work to improve them. At least this was his policy up to 1876. After the unpleasant experience he had with Kerchesters in that year he made up his mind to go no further into farming and so he held his hand and he showed his shrewdness in doing so, for times were against the ordinary tenant. That he made some money out of farming after 1876 is true but it is doubtful if he got a fair interest on his capital and that was only done after rents had been seriously reduced. Kerchesters was reduced from 2,200 to 1,500 per year and when it was put on the market in 1896, no offer approximating that amount was received.

The real secret of his success lay in his financial ability and this is said in face of the fact that he could not balance his cash book from one year's end to the other. He made a show of keeping books but he really carried his ledger in his head. His memory in this respect was phenomenal and so far as we recollect he never made a mistake as to prices or dates of delivery. He was an innate trader. He loved a bargain and, like most men, he liked the best side of it. Possibly in this respect he was too keen and men drew away from him who were on the other side of the business. Then he had a grievous fault of holding on to his wheat and wool and he hated to part with a lot of good fat cattle. What he lost by holding wheat and wool it would be hard to estimate. When he held cattle and sheep he generally made money. He had remarkable perception when there was a good thing in sight and he was quick to act. Here is a notable illustration. In August, 1888, he was riding through the Chicago stockyards. The ranching business had been at a low ebb but it was looking up. His attention was called to a lot of very fine range steers, the property of a Scotch Company, which had just been sold at a large price; so far as we recollect they netted considerably over sixty dollars per head. ''How many of these have you for sale?" was his query to the manager who was sitting on the fence watching the cattle. "Three thousand, sir," was the reply. "Are you certain of that?" was the next question asked. "Dead cert, sir." Sotto voce he said, "Then the steers will bring a deal more than the shares are selling at." That afternoon the cable was working to his broker in Edinburgh. He invested all told 1,000. One year alone his dividend check was over 400. In the investing world he met his Waterloos like other men, but his average was good and losses were taken good naturedly.


 


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