Business Must Go Ahead


By CARLE C. CONWAY, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Continental Can Co.

Delivered at Hotel Muehlebach, Kansas City, Mo., before a luncheon given by the Real Estate Board of Kansas City, and attended also by the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, October 24, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 86-87.

BUSINESS goes ahead for one very definite reason. It has no other way to go! It can never stand still. It must go forward or ultimately it dies. To listen to the outpourings of some of our theorists, one would think that business leaders were soft, indolent, and carefree. They are pictured as spending their winters lolling on the beaches at Miami, and their summers in luxurious ease. So far as my experience goes, that must be a couple of other fellows. One thing we all know, the business man who reaches the top of the ladder is the one man who finds no place to sit down.

Every business man knows when he goes into a venture that there is no old age pension or old age security for him. He has to succeed or he fails. The fact that only five per cent of the businesses which are started succeed should refute this philosophy of an easy life. It certainly does with those of us who have grave business responsibilities.

The free enterprise system is not now and never has been soft. But it has been mighty effective. It has enabled our people to create one-half of the world's wealth in the last century, and the amazing thing is that the greater part of this wealth has been created in the lifetime of the people now living, in the lifetime of the generation now gathered.

Our country was discovered by means of adventurous capital when Queen Isabella pawned her jewels to finance Columbus. It has been developed by adventurous capital and indomitable nerve. This very community has been built up by men of courage, imagination and ability. Many of them have operated on "shoe-string" capital. This is not exceptional. Such is the record of the development of our country.

There is an old saying that it is the bad Sunday School boy who gets the attention. Whether business has been bad or not, as adventurous boys sometimes are bad, it certainly has been getting plenty of attention in the recent past. I don't mean friendly attention, either.

To make a bet with capital has been discouraged by taxation, regulation and what not. It is considered almost immoral to make a bet for capital appreciation in the creation of something new or the preservation of something trust-worthily old. But it has again been made almost moral to bet on horse races.

It is the tremendous purchasing power of the American market which has made big business essential, and vice versa. Yet bigness, serviceable or not, has been attacked as something almost sinful and wrong. Criminal indictments have been used as a club over men of integrity on matterswhich could only by the farthest stretch of the imagination have even a civil implication, and so on down the line. We seem to have forgotten the statement of Self ridge that "Commerce is the mother of integrity."

What has business done during this period of criticism? Has it given up? Have men of integrity and honor quit? They certainly have not. It has been said that 40% of the present sales of the Dupont Company are from products conceived and marketed since 1933. Our airplanes, motor cars, refrigerators, streamlined trains, air-conditioned offices, four-lane highways, our everything, you might say, has marched ahead in spite of the many obstacles in our paths.

Again I say, business goes ahead because it has to go ahead under any and all conditions.

Now let's take a look at what business has had to do in some of the war-torn countries.

The company I have the honor to represent has interests in many countries outside of this. Some of the letters we have received from our associates operating in these war-torn countries have been thrilling. Some have pulled at the heart strings. But all of them have given me a new conception of the courage of businessmen and business concerns facing perils and overcoming obstacles of all kinds.

For instance, in a letter from Holland:—"The Germans insisted, from their experiences, in Germany, that black plate could not be handled in our Continental automatic lines. We did it and did a satisfactory job"—. Even in the darkness of their present situation, they got the thrill of overcoming this obstacle.

The Managing Director of our English associates writes —"Running a large business . . . is an exacting job in war times. The emergencies that arise, the result of the impact of events on character, the leadership in critical, unexpected moments, take their toll of the spirit, but I am thankful with all my heart that thus far I have found them within my grasp, a somewhat extended grasp at times, but nevertheless it has served."

From the printed annual report of our French associates: —"We shall not dwell on the tragic events of the past year. Silence and work are our only rule. Let us at least honor our dead."—and—"The credit of our customers has remained remarkably high in these difficult times." What an epic tribute to business and to businessmen! All these experiences serve to strengthen my firm belief that business is the last outpost and the only bulwark in times of war, revolution or social upheaval, between absolute chaos and the orderly procedure of civilized society.

These experiences, however, bring close to us our own emergency. The "Saturday Evening Post," in a recent editorial, said:—"The one kind of warfare it was certain suicide for Germany to release in the world was mechanized warfare—the war of technology and machines. That was bound to call forth American power in the aspect of its most formidable supremacy. We are the machine people. America is Machine Street."

What made us the machine people? What made America "Machine Street"? The free enterprise system did that. You can thank the doctrine that the individual was rewarded for his accomplishments, the burning hope and faith that, by diligence and work, we could better our lot and that of our children.

The "Divide-the-Wealth Boys" are not the ones who burn the midnight oil of research or create the wealth they are so eager to share. Nor do they increase production. The "Multiply-the-Wealth Boys" do that. It is American businessmen and the businesses they conduct which are performing and will increasingly perform miracles of prodigious production in our nation's emergency.

The very industries which one department of the government has been trying to "atomize," other departments are now forced to "utilize" in the nation's defense.

And what is the attitude of industry under all this? Business today stands absolutely united back of the national defense program of our country. It is willing to sacrifice, willing to work as it has never worked before, for the common objective of our nation's interest. That is the reason why I have never been so proud of being a representative of business and businessmen as I am this very minute.

Let's look at a record or two:—In January, 1940, there were 25,000 people employed in the aviation industry. In January, 1941, there were 100,000 people employed, and it is estimated that by January 1, 1942, there will be 400,000 people employed in this industry.

The maximum of machine tool industry in the World War was rated at a volume of one hundred and eighty million dollars in the top year. Yet, since 1938, we have seen it go from under three hundred million dollars to an estimated eight hundred and fifty million dollars during the current year.

Show men the totalitarian or dictatorship form of government that can approach these marvelous records of our free enterprise system. It cannot be done. Make no mistake, business too is entitled to its Distinguished Service Cross in these perilous times for its services in national defense.

It is time we lifted up our heads! It is time we appreciated our strength and serviceability and power. But our job is only beginning, and a thrilling job it is. We have the opportunity, the responsibility, yes, the sacred duty of proving for all time that under the American system of free enterprise, American businessmen, doing things the American way, can accomplish more than any other system on earth.