A History of our Firm Appendix I. Impressions
of an Employee abroad in the Sixties
'Alexander Rankin, born 1788, entered P. G. & Co.
about 1808, became a partner in 1812, and remained a partner for 40 years.
His firm, Gilmour, Rankin & Co., still going strong in 1920, as Rankin,
Gilmour & Co., Ltd., and his nephew at the head of it. This is romance.
It is romance that three generations of Rankins
should manage Gilmour, Rankin & Co. and Rankin, Gilmour & Co. for
years, and no other head to the firm in all these years except the three
generations. The fact shows some solid qualities.
'Two men gave the tone to the firm in the XIXth
century, Allan Gilmour senior, and Alexander Rankin. That tone none of the
other partners could have given. A. G. gave driving power which would have
overdriven, but for A. R., who had the steadying power and humanity. Both
men were greater than the Polloks. I rate the Polloks as honourable,
capable men, else they could not have driven the team they did; but A. G.
and A. R. were the men with initiative, pluck, and staying power. If A. G.
junior had lived in America, I think all his partners would have left him.
His letters from Glasgow were insulting in their abuse of the New
My next two greatest men in
the firm are the two Robert Rankins.
should have been made more of.
I blame the
seniors for not doing team work. As far as I could discover, they did not
suck the brains of the subs no matter how clever and capable. The longer
the business went on, the more complicated and complex it became. R. R. &
Co., with a colossal retail store, a shipyard, a salt and
coal store, a large harbour frontage wharf was a necessity for them, and
also for landing cheap parcels of deals. With all that business gone the
whole of the wharf rent and staff cost, and labour landing and examining
each deal, piling it, and often same day loading into a scowall that had
to be paid by Nashwaak in the 1860's.
'Team work and intelligent
calculation would have shown that St. John could not pay. Francis
Ferguson, I know, never thought of it; he grumbled that business "fell
off" as Britain would not pay these added charges on his prices. If he had
taken Carmichael, Ames, and McAlister into his confidence, and in winter
figured out a careful analysis of the cost of his deals, he could have
seen where to economize. He did nothing, and certainly all the St. John
Staff did absolutely no work all winter. I myself practically never did
anything but bring coals to fires, copy a few letters, go to Post Office
and Bank, and take notes to sawmill. Square timber there was none, but a
pond and a surveyor were paid for all year, and Ezekiel Jordan was paid to
re-survey Nashwaak deals, paid all year. How did the affair not burst?
Bathurst was better. I did work
there, but no team work there either. It was Jove and his minions. In the
St. John winter the clerks read magazines, and sent me downstairs for
brandy when Ferguson left. He came late, did nothing, and left early. What
was worse, Arthur Rankin himself told me then he was at Bathurst to learn
the business, and he learned it and knew it all! Arthur, if he knew
something, should have been sent to St. John to see the mills working only
for the West Indies sugar boxes, should have been sent to the State of
Maine to see the mills on the Penobscott, always working up inferior logs
to New Brunswick, should, knowing cost to Bathurst, have been sent to the
West Indies to see what demand was there. No, the poor chap got no
guidance from his uncle.
Well, myself at St. John at 15½ years of age, what
thought they of me? Uncle Francis never said a word, not one word to me on
business in all our association, and when I left did not tell me he
expected me back. He did not know his own office, and never discussed
business with the clerks. I yearned to be sent to the interior to manage
some of the properties in the books. I then knew that R. R. of Liverpool
was the man of the firm, but with my experience now, I tell you solemnly
that R. R. was running all the branches and killing himself.
I met John Gilmour at Quebec, a
good-humoured, honest, farmer type; the two Fergusons, graceful chaps
socially, but as business men, fools or worse. I was in the Miramichi old
firm's house as Hutchison's guest. Hutchison had force, which is
Gilmour junior, of Glasgow, wrote twice a month for years, but believe me
there was never a word of business in the lettersonly complaints of past
actions and warnings against a repetition.
Strang I knew nothing of: R. R.
of Liverpool ran the concern with American cotton and efficient finance.
The St. John piling charges mounted up on Nashwaak River deals. I now
judge they added quite Ioo per cent, to cost, when they could equally well
have been shipped direct. The Nashwaak could and should have been an
'The whole Portland St. John establishment was an
encumbrance and terrible expense, including the square- timber pond,
because there was no timber to ship, or very little. No calculations of
cost of deals were made in St. John and Bathurst during my six years, and
efficient clerks were available, and were hardly spoken to. How the devil
did it go on? Drink began before breakfast, whisky and gentian, and after
ii a.m. continued. I believe that Young when he left owed a good deal to
the firm of R. R. & Co. How he went out I know not. Ferguson used to come
down to the office in the morning, and Young about 6 p.m., and he kept the
clerks often half the night. He contradicted all that Ferguson had done,
and when I asked the clerks how they could serve both, the reply was that
they always obeyed the last order.
'The Gilmours and Polloks, I note by your book, lived
longer than the Rankins. I know R. R. senior killed himself with work, and
perhaps Alexander Rankin, who died at 63. R. R. lived to 69 only.'
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