Editor’s note: Every Sunday, Fortune publishes a story from our magazine archives. With the annual Fortune 500 list ready to be revealed tomorrow, turn this week to our inaugural Fortune 500 list, in July, 1955. General Motors topped the list that year, and writer Duncan Norton-Taylor took an inside look into the lives of America’s top executives. What does the boss do with his spare hours–if any? How do vice presidents spend their money, and their time away from the office? Here, some glimpses into the private lives of executives in 1955 who earned more than $50,000.
The American executive in his office is a familiar figure; he is, typically, decisive, somewhat aloof, and generally regarded by his employees with a certain awe. In the life he leads outside his office, however, he is a much less familiar character; the occasional pictures painted of him by fiction writers tend to be romantic, or even lurid, and with the possible exception of John Marquand’s heroes, the fictional executive is rarely a man you have met. Yet millions of Americans diligently aspire to the life of a top executive, coveting his opportunities for pleasure while, actually, they have only the faintest notion of what his life is really like or of what he does when he goes home.
There are in the U.S. approximately 30,000 executives, with incomes of $50,000 or more. These men sit on the top-most rungs of the business ladder either as managers or as owners of their own businesses. Obviously there is no “average” executive among them (they are all singular men). But their lives do have certain common characteristics, and there is visible a kind of composite way of executive life.
The successful American executive, for example, gets up early–about 7:00 A.M.–eats a large breakfast, and rushes to his office by train or auto. It is not unusual for him, after spending from 9:00 A.M. until 6:00 P.M. in his office, to hurry home, eat dinner, and crawl into bed with a briefcase full of homework. He is constantly pressed for time, and a great deal of the time he spends in his office is extraneous to his business. He gets himself involved in all kinds of community work, either because he wants to or because he figures he has to for the sake of public relations.
If he is a top executive he lives on an economic scale not too different from that of the man on the next-lower income rung. He surrenders around 40 per cent of his salary to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (he may cough up as much as 75 per cent) but still manages to put a little of his income in stocks, bonds, life insurance. He owns two cars, and gets along with one or two servants. What time he has left from his work–on weekends and brief vacations–he spends exercising, preferably outdoors, and usually at golf. Next to golf, fishing is the most popular executive diversion.
He spends almost no time on politics. He entertains often because he must (i.e., for business reasons or on account of his wife) and, under much the same compulsion, he attends cultural events. He does little reading outside of newspapers, newsmagazines, reports, and trade papers. (For a notable exception, see “Texas Eastern’s Naff,” page 108.) He drinks, if he drinks at all, moderately and on a schedule. Alcoholism, it is clear, does not go with success and is to be found only among some executives’ bored wives. Extramarital relations in the top American business world are not important enough to discuss.
Gone with the income tax
Twenty-five years have altered the executive way of life noticeably; in 1930 the average businessman had been buffeted by the economic storms but he had not yet been battered by the income tax. The executive still led a life ornamented by expensive adjuncts that other men could not begin to afford, a life attended by a formality that other men did not have time for. In Boston, which set the highest tone if not the fastest pace, the archetype of the high-salaried executive of 1930 arrived at his office in his chauffeur-driven Pierce-Arrow, uncompromisingly attired in dark suit and detachable stiff collar. For weekend lounging white flannels were de rigueur.
Today an executive, outside of Boston at least, may arrive at his office in tan shoes, sometimes in a tweed jacket with side vents. And he may well do his weekending in shorts–pink ones this year. Today’s executive still pays plenty for his clothes, however; in New York, tailor-made suits at Twyeffort’s will run $265; custom-made shoes, $80.
Among other things that have changed in the executive’s life has been the ritual connected with city club life. Ceremony has all but vanished with the migration to the suburbs. Executives now use town clubs merely for lunching or having a fast drink at the end of the day before catching their commuting trains. The old, annual club dinner with its solemnities and reports, its printed menus, elaborate dishes, and long cigars, has deteriorated into a gobbling of commonplace steak by members numbed by martinis. The passing of formal club life has also meant the end of a good deal of stag conviviality. One Boston executive complains that he hasn’t seen a poker game or crap game in the Union Club in ten years.
The executive’s home today is likely to be unpretentious and relatively small–perhaps seven rooms and two and a half baths. (Servants are hard to come by and many a vice president’s wife gets along with part-time help. So many have done so for so long, in fact, that they no longer complain much about it.) The executive who feels, as apparently Robert R. Young does, that to be completely happy he needs a forty-room “cottage” in Newport and a thirty-one-room oceanside villa in Palm Beach is a rare bird these days. The fact that Young paid only $38,000 for his Newport place, Fairholme, which cost Philadelphia banker John R. Drexel nearly a quarter of a million dollars to build in 1905, demonstrates the decline in the market for such outsize mansions.
Forty feet, four people, $40,000
As executives’ homes have dwindled in size, so have their parties. Frederick J. Thibold, catering manager at Sherry’s in New York, can remember dances for 2,000 with a “sumptuous supper” twenty-five years ago. A big dance today is one for 400, and at some of these, Thibold confides in a whisper, Sherry’s has served hot dogs and hamburgers. Today’s executive entertains at his country club, or at small dinner parties at home. The New York executive who entertains at smart restaurants, where a dinner party for six may cost $125, usually does so on an expense account.
The large yacht has also foundered in the sea of progressive taxation. In 1930, Fred Fisher (Bodies), Walter Briggs, and Alfred P. Sloan cruised around in vessels 235 feet long; J. P. Morgan had just built his fourth Corsair (343 feet). Today, seventy-five feet is considered a lot of yacht. One of the biggest yachts launched in the past five years is the ninety-six-foot Rhonda III, built and owned by Ingalls Shipbuilding Corp., of Birmingham, Alabama. The Rhonda III cost half a million dollars to build, and the annual bill for keeping a crew aboard her, stocking her, and fueling her runs to around $130,000. As Chairman Robert I. Ingalls Jr. says, only corporations today can own even so comparatively modest a craft. The specifications of the boat that interests the great majority of seagoing executives today are “forty feet, four people, $40,000.” In this tidy vessel the businessman of 1955 is quite happily sea-borne.
Nobody likes to sit still
But if some stateliness has gone out of the lives of successful businessmen, it has been replaced by a new scope. No executive, twenty-five years ago, could whisk himself and his golf clubs 1,000 miles away just for a weekend. Today a New York executive can play weekend golf regularly all through the winter in Florida or Bermuda, and follow the season north through Georgia and North Carolina. In 1930 the private plane was a dubious adventure, advertised chiefly as something for “sportsmen.” Flying is still done by some as a sport; Stanly Donogh, a Sears, Roebuck division manager in Seattle, last winter took his wife on an 18,000-mile flight by small plane around South America. But for the most part the private plane, like the commercial airliner, is just a routine means of getting swiftly away from, and back to, the office.
The modern executive’s leisure pursuits may be specialized or varied but his relaxation is usually concentrated, and, as might be expected, well organized. Ed Quinn, head of the Chrysler division of Chrysler Corp., for example, spends his weekends like thousands of other big and little businessmen, fishing–in his case for muskellunge off Grosse Pointe on Lake St. Clair. Quinn’s thirty-foot, twin-engine boat is equipped not only for fishing but for any foreseeable emergency. Her gear includes special chromium brackets designed by Quinn to hold half a dozen trolling rods, an echo sounder, an electronic amplifier, and a ship-to-shore radiotelephone. The businesslike Quinn keeps a detailed record of the circumstances attending the boating of every muskellunge. Other executives, like Crawford Greenewalt, president of du Pont, take a lick at just about everything. Over the years Greenewalt has involved himself in a home machine shop, goggle fishing off his Bermuda home, tennis, the clarinet, classical recordings, the photography of birds, and the cultivation of orchids.
But what Quinn and Greenewalt and most other executives seem to have in common is a dislike for spending their time off in repose; sedentary diversions bore them. A case in point is the Alabama broker who had the impulse to learn to play the piano. He did in fact master 0 Sole Mio and CarryMe Back to Old Virginny before he thought to ask his teacher how many chords there were to learn. Told there must be several thousand, he abandoned the piano, deciding he preferred to concentrate on his fine tennis game; when it was raining he could spend his time keeping fit by exercising with his barbells.
From the Pacific to the Warrior
The differences in executives’ lives–and despite the obvious generalizations they are numerous–stem principally from differences in financial status, personal inclinations, and geographic location. Those executives who own their businesses enjoy certain obvious advantages over salaried executives. Similarly, those who were fortunate enough to inherit wealth, or who enjoyed high incomes before incomes were whittled down by the federal income tax, may have an amount of capital that few younger executives can hope to accumulate. The lives of such men are likely to have considerable sweep and élan.
Take Richard S. Rheem, fifty-one, who is an entrepreneur (president of Rheem Manufacturing Co. of Richmond, California) and a son of the late William S. Rheem, president of Standard Oil of California. Rheem makes his home formally in two cities but spends most of his time in a blur of motion–he estimates that he never stays put anywhere longer than three weeks. One of his two residences is a luxurious apartment on East Sixty-sixth Street, New York, staffed by four servants; the other is a house on Vallejo Street in San Francisco, staffed by four more servants. He recently bought an estate, La Dolphine, in Hillsborough, California (down the peninsula from San Francisco), which was modeled after the Petit Trianon at Versailles, and which Rheem picked up for $150,000. He spends his vacations either in a cabin in the vastness of Montana, where he enjoys “the dimensions,” or in the vastness of the Pacific, aboard his ninety-eight-foot ketch, the Morning Star. Rheem enjoys a life with sweep.
Jonathan W. Warner, thirty-seven, is an entrepreneur of more modest dimensions. Warner is executive vice president and operating boss of Gulf States Paper Corp., which was founded by his grandfather. In a $40-million plant alongside the Warrior River, in Alabama, Gulf States turned out five billion paper sacks last year, one-fifth of all the grocery bags sold in the U.S.
Boyish-looking Jack Warner lives in an unpretentious brick house on a 120-foot plot in Tuscaloosa, near the University of Alabama campus. He bought the house, which has five bedrooms, for $18,000 after World War II. He and his wife are enthusiastic collectors of antiques and their rooms are decorated with crystal chandeliers and filled with Chinese Chippendale furniture, lacquer chests, and Dresden china.
Warner’s home is only fifteen minutes from his plant. This is pretty much the orbit of his life, although he does go to three conventions a year and takes a couple of weeks’ vacation in Florida. His diversions are hunting and fishing on the Tombigbee River, swimming at the Tuscaloosa Country Club, and watching University of Alabama football and basketball games. He did back flips on a trampoline in his back yard until he got a crick in his neck recently; he now leaves that activity to the elder of his two small sons. Warner believes in healthy living and is now heading a drive to raise money for a new Tuscaloosa Y.M.C.A.
The Warners entertain by inviting a dozen friends to their house for drinks, which may have to be limited to two so that they can all rush off to the University Club before the dining room is closed. Warner is perfectly content to go on making paper bags, raising camellias, and collecting original Audubon prints. Especially, he wouldn’t change places with any of “those fellows in New York who have two cocktails before lunch and then can’t do anything the rest of the afternoon.” From Warner’s observation, “They’re always going to psychiatrists, having nervous breakdowns, and spending most of their time on commuting trains.”
We don’t get off the beam
The lives of executives do vary considerably according to where they make their living. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, a businessman can live very simply and pleasantly. As a Seattle minister observed, after noting that only 30 per cent of Seattle’s population are affiliated with churches: “There are so many wonderful things to do outdoors.”
It takes Horace W. McCurdy, president of the Puget Sound Bridge & Dredging Co., less than half an hour to drive from his Seattle office to his mansion on Mercer Island by way of the Lake Washington Bridge, which his company built. Paul B. McKee, president of Pacific Power & Light Co. in Portland, takes only twenty minutes to get to his home, located on seven and a half acres of farmland.
There are few extremes of wealth in the Northwest. This fact in itself imposes a certain moderation on those who do have large incomes. Two years ago, at sixty, C.B. (“Bill”) Stephenson, of Portland, was made president of the First National Bank, the largest banking chain in the Northwest, and he suddenly found himself projected into the $50,000-and-up class. It made no perceptible difference to Bill Stephenson, who changed his living habits scarcely at all. He bought a new Ford, which he still drives; Mrs. Stephenson drives a three-year-old Buick. The Stephensons were obliged to do a little more entertaining, but they stayed right on in their seven-room house, and continued to get along quite satisfactorily with a part-time cleaning woman.
Stephenson likes to putter around his flower beds, and on Saturday afternoon he may drift over to the Waverley Country Club with a set of rusty and nondescript clubs and play some rusty but not too nondescript golf. Last winter he took the longest vacation he had ever had: three and a half weeks in Hawaii. “Top executives here are not expected to get off the beam,” he says, meaning they are not expected to emerge obtrusively from the background.
Clay Brown, also of Portland, is the fifty-two-year-old president of the M and M Wood Working Co., one of the biggest plywood manufacturers in the world. A onetime professional baseball player, Brown heads the newly organized Portland Beavers, but what with selling stock in the club and tending to his own business, he has scarcely had time to see his team play in a Coast League game. He hasn’t taken a vacation in two years. He spends six days a week in his office and the seventh wandering anxiously around his plants.
He lives in an expensive apartment in the city, but “we don’t buy any extra high-priced fancy stuff,” he says. “Not with two youngsters in school and taxes what they are.” On the subject of savings, “We’ve always made a habit of saving money,” Brown states in the manner of a man who thinks any other policy folly.
The urbane life
San Francisco’s business leaders are an unusually sophisticated group. They live graciously. They reside on Russian Hill or Pacific Heights, with a splendid view of the bay, or in the sunny suburbs surrounding San Francisco. J.D. Zellerbach buys a Van Gogh or a Cezanne at the drop of an auctioneer’s hammer. Charles de Bretteville, president of Spreckels Sugar, lives a strenuously athletic life in the horsy suburb of Woodside on the peninsula. Henry J. Kaiser goes speedboating on Lake Tahoe, and Richard Rheem races off to Honolulu in his yacht. But the men in the upper brackets are also expected to underwrite the opera’s annual losses and contribute to museums and other cultural enterprises and support the city’s charities–all of which they do, handsomely and with urbanity.
The life of San Francisco’s executives is illustrated by the activities of Jerd F. Sullivan, sixty-four-year-old president of the old and conservative Crocker First National Bank. Sullivan’s numerous civic involvements include the Boy Scouts, the Salvation Army, serving as president of the Light Opera Association and the United Negro College Fund. A big, hearty man who once worked on a Nevada ranch, he paces himself carefully. He plays golf and bridge, but really prefers dominoes noontimes at the Pacific Union Club.
The Sullivans live on Russian Hill, have dinner with friends two or three evenings a week, and about once a month throw a large party in their old-fashioned pink house. On weekends they retire to a small house set in eighteen acres of orchards and wild land, fifty miles from the city, where the only company they have is their Weimaraner dog. Sullivan believes in “commuting to your recreation once a week instead of commuting to your work five times a week.”
The quiet Texans
It is clear that flamboyant living is not characteristic of top U.S. businessmen; it is not even characteristic of Texans.
A few, like D. Harold Byrd, fifty-five-year-old president of Byrd-Frost, Inc. (oil), still do manage to give the scene some splashes of color. Byrd’s parties may include 1,000 guests who disport themselves at his estate on the edge of Dallas, swimming and boating or pedaling around on water bicycles on his lake, or bowling or dancing in front of his band shell. Byrd pilots his own twin-engined airplane. He flies to Wyoming to hunt (“the deer are too small in Texas,” he says with remarkable candor for a Texan) and flies to football games at the University of Texas. He has put up some $150,000 to finance students through the university. He has also given $15,000 to the college band.
James Keenan, vice president and general manager of Joske’s home-furnishings store in Houston, is more typical of Texas’ salaried executives, however. He likes to go home after work and spend the evening quietly with Mrs. Keenan and their children, read some magazines, and go to bed.
Fun, among most Texas executives, is family fun. A common practice is for a company president, on his way to New York in the company plane, to fill the empty seats with family and friends. The return trip may include a detour into Canada for some fishing.
D. A. Hulcy, chairman and president of the Lone Star Gas Co. in Dallas, has acquired a sensible attitude toward life, although he acquired it the hard way. About four years ago, at fifty-nine, Hulcy was finishing out terms as president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and as president of the American Gas Association. “I just couldn’t find any leisure time. There was the regular day at the office, plus outside meetings. When I went home I carried a full briefcase. There were speeches to be written. I was on a treadmill and always about three jumps behind.” Hulcy, meanwhile, had given up golf, fishing, hunting. His vacations were business trips, and about the only leisure he got “was an hour or so at dinner.” Then he suffered a heart attack.
He recovered. But after that, a scared and chastened man, he put himself on a five-day-work schedule. He bought a cottage on Lake Whitney and spent almost every weekend there fishing. He now takes regular vacations. “I’m learning to relax,” says Hulcy, who once thought he could only “thrive mentally on a diet of work and more work … I was just a damn fool.”
Not fun, but interesting
Hulcy’s story might, but probably won’t, be studied by executives like Wallace R. Persons, president of Emerson Electric Manufacturing Co., of St. Louis, who thinks that his life is little different from that of most executives in manufacturing companies. “Ninety per cent of them,” he says, “are so fascinated by the game of business that they don’t care very much about anything else.” Persons is lean, tense, and forty-five; he has had his present job a little over a year.
He drives to work from suburban Ladue in a three-year-old Oldsmobile and is in his office by eight-thirty. Lunch for Persons is a matter of taking on food, like a bomber refueling in mid-air, while he goes on working. He gets home around six-thirty, “always with a few little things I want to think about.” By nine he is in bed with the few little things; he finds bed is the only place where he can cope with “a problem requiring a thoughtful decision.” Saturday afternoon he may bring a vice president home to go for a swim at the Bellerive Country Club and then talk business. About one-third of Persons’ time is spent on business trips, during which his program is even more concentrated. He never takes his wife on such trips for the sensible reason that he doesn’t want to have to fit his schedule to someone else’s whims.
Persons’ life differs in one important respect from the life that put Hulcy in a hospital: Persons spasmodically takes time off to play golf and hunt, occasionally rushes off on a vacation “to recharge.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s fun,” Persons says of his life. “But it’s a schedule of consuming interest. My wife says I’ll do it until I’m dead.”
The general’s “New Guinea”
Manifestly, sheer physical survival is a problem with many executives–staying at the top, that is, and not cracking under the strain. “What you ought to ask me,” one New York executive said only half jokingly, “is not how I live but how I stay alive.”
The South provides a commentary on the question of survival–and some interesting contrasts in executive living within its own geographical limits. Greenville, in the Mississippi Delta (population: 30,000), which has recently seen the arrival of big Alexander Smith, Inc. (carpets), still presents a kind of Old South idyl–with modern air conditioning.
Cotton brokers, planters, merchants, bankers, drift out of their offices for mid-morning coffee, drive home for lunch, and get home again for dinner well before the sun has disappeared behind the levee. Weekends they play golf, fish for bream and channel cat, or stalk the country’s abundant game birds. They travel a lot for business and pleasure, but they are always glad to get back to Greenville to live.
Alexander Gallatin Paxton, fifty-eight, is the state’s biggest cotton broker. He lives part of the time in a house in Greenville, part of the time in a luxurious lodge built among the willows beside an oxbow of the Mississippi River, where he keeps a speedboat and a Tennessee walking horse. Living practically simultaneously in two houses, eight miles apart, drives Mrs. Paxton crazy, she says. But she likes the town house and Paxton likes the lodge, and that’s that.
Paxton’s big side interest in life is soldiering. He commanded an artillery battery in ‘World War I, stayed in the National Guard, and in World War II commanded the 33rd Division artillery in New Guinea and Luzon. He calls his lodge “New Guinea.”
“One reason Mrs. Paxton and I have gotten along so well,” he explains, “is that we each have our hobbies. I have my military and she has her Bible studies.”
Times are changing in Greenville, but the pace hasn’t changed much yet, and staying alive is no problem.
“We get too damn tired”
In Atlanta, however, the pace has changed a lot, and is creating a problem for businessmen. They like the prosperity but not all are sure they like the new speed of life.
Executives of an older generation, like sixty-seven-year-old John Sibley, can afford to jog along evenly; they have already been around the course. But an in-between generation is having some difficulty finding its gait. John O. Chiles, who is fifty-three, belongs to that generation. He is head of the Adams-Cates Co., one of the biggest real-estate firms in the Southeast.
The company, he reports with a troubled look, just finished the biggest quarter in its fifty years in business. Chiles has become a seven-fifteen riser. He has to entertain two or three nights a week; otherwise he likes to be in bed by nine o’clock. He thinks he and his friends are trying to do too much. Collapsing back in his desk chair on a Saturday morning, before going out and playing thirty-six holes of golf, Chiles comments on the new rush: “Nobody wants to quit, it gets in your blood, like dope. But we get too damn tired.”
Mills B. Lane Jr., however, is young enough (forty-three) to have grown into his executive responsibilities as the boom was developing; he belongs to a new generation of southern businessmen. Lane is president of the Citizens & Southern National Bank, biggest bank in the Southeast, with headquarters in Atlanta.
He is up at five-thirty, when he fixes himself some coffee before the cook arrives. “That’s when I do my reflectin’ and thinkin’.” He gets to his office by seven-thirty, driving whichever of three cars he happens to jump into–a Corvette, a Cadillac, or a Chevrolet sedan; the Lanes’ fourth car, a station wagon, is reserved for domestic chores. At eight-fifteen he holds a meeting of his staff and puts in a full, slam-bang day. “Hi-yuh, Billy boy,” or “It’s a wonderful world,” he may be heard shouting into his telephone in his dignified inner office. He gets home anywhere between four-thirty and six. “Then I take a coupla knocks,” he says, meaning a couple of highballs, “have dinner and fall into bed.”
Once in a while he gets down to Florida or over to Savannah for a sortie along the coast in his small cruiser. Or he will spend his weekends just lounging around his backyard swimming pool. (Large backyard swimming pools have become a conventional feature of, many executives’ homes. Lane’s neighbor, Richard Rich, head of Rich’s department store, gave up golf and completely rebuilt his off-hours life around a tennis court, a garden house, and a $12,000, fifty-foot swimming pool.)
Lane’s life actually has some very earliest aspects. His daughter was a victim of cerebral palsy, a misfortune that turned Lane’s and his wife’s attention to work in that field. They started the Cerebral Palsy School Clinic of Atlanta, which cares for seventy-five afflicted girls, and which Mrs. Lane supervises. Lane’s dream is to establish a large rehabilitation school in Atlanta for Georgia children, and he tirelessly runs money-raising campaigns for such work. His latest scheme was to order 18,000 sets of Menaboni bird plates, which Lane sells to anyone he can buttonhole for $25 a set (four dinner plates). He expects to make $100,000 for his philanthropy out of this project.
Like the Silurian fish
Adaptation is one explanation of how a lot of executives stay alive. As the fish in the Silurian rivers began to develop swim bladders in order to live in shoal waters, so American executives have developed certain compensating features. The process can be observed particularly in the big cities where conditions are the most trying. Executives have developed an insensitivity to noise, an uncanny time sense (needed in commuting), and an attunement to the city’s terrifying rhythms. Instead of trying to escape the phenomenon of modern life they fling themselves at it. John C. Sharp’s method of finding daily refreshment is an example. Sharp, fifty-four, is president of the Hotpoint division of General Electric and his office is in Chicago. At the end of the day he gets into his Ford, and eagerly plunges into the brawling stream of homebound traffic. Some thirty-five minutes later, when he turns into his driveway in Glen Ellyn, “I’m as relaxed,” says Sharp, “as a wet noddle.”
Sharp makes this analysis of the jittery executive: “If a man is nervous in his job it is probably because he can’t handle it or he doesn’t like it. In either instance it’s the wrong job for him.”
Love that business
In New York City, John Cunningham also flings himself at his environment. Cunningham, who is fifty-seven, leaves his home in Riverdale, New York, at eight-fifteen in his Cadillac Eldorado, and, according to his own description, drives “wildly” into the city, threads his way through the morning chaos of Madison Avenue, parks his car in a garage, and arrives at his advertising office (Cunningham & Walsh) thoroughly stimulated.
Cunningham’s life, which is one of continuous compulsions with occasional and expensive pleasure, mirrors the daily lives of thousands of other New York executives. Cunningham enjoys it. He plays hard–when he gets the chance–and works hard and doesn’t have to worry about his health; he is a tough and conditioned city man.
He lives in a vast house built shortly after the turn of the century. As a boy growing up in Medford, Massachusetts, Cunningham, one of seven children, always had to share a room with a brother; one of the rewards of success, he feels, is to have plenty of large bedrooms. Since 1946 he has owned a house in Bermuda; he had another big house on Cape Cod, until Hurricane Carol demolished it. He also owns about two miles of Nantucket Island waterfront.
Not many men possess so many facilities for pleasure. The Cunninghams, who are childless, manage to enjoy their Bermuda home on Thanksgiving weekends. Otherwise they have stayed in the place once, and for only two weeks. Cunningham keeps a small schooner off Cape Cod, but he has never been aboard her for more than a weekend. He plays golf but only for business reasons (“too slow”). He does enjoy tennis. He once played duplicate bridge on both the Harvard and Union League clubs bridge teams. But he quit because once he got started he couldn’t stop: he went on playing in his sleep.
Cunningham’s adaptations have involved some atrophy. “What’s tragic about me,” he confides, “is that I have all this equipment and desire for play–but I love this other woman, this agency.”
A possibly better adapted executive is Don Mitchell, chairman and president of Sylvania Electric Products Co., New York City. Indeed, Mitchell has apparently mastered most of the executive’s problems.
He still lives in the eleven-room brick house in suburban Summit, New Jersey, that be bought in 1938 for $17,000.
Commuting to his office takes him a little over an hour, and he doesn’t particularly enjoy it. But he has worked out the problem very nicely. If he can leave his office on upper Broadway at four-forty-five, he can avoid the subway rush and get into a club car at Hoboken on the Lackawanna’s five-fifteen. In more dignified surroundings than the regular coaches, and impervious as he is to idle chatting, he can get some work done during the thirty-minute ride to Summit. If he has to stay in town for dinner or a meeting, as he does two or three times a week, he stays at the Savoy-Plaza.
Mitchell planned his life from its beginning. His first twenty-five years were to be spent in preparation (it may be presumed that he did not actually make this decision until sometime in his adolescence). The second twenty-five years were to be spent in providing financially for himself and his family. The next twenty-five years were to be spent in serving society. Since Mitchell became president of Sylvania at forty-one, nine years ago, he has covered phase two of his career well within his schedule. His salary today is $120,000, which, of course, does not count income from investments.
He has never overextended himself financially–a dangerous and foolish practice, he observes, of many young businessmen, who apparently think they can project themselves into a higher economic level by spending in such a way as to suggest they are already up there.
Now, at fifty, he already is in phase three, devoting more and more of his time to serving society. “My hobby,” he says, “is the American Management Association.” He also lends his energy to at least a dozen other organizations ranging from the Council for Economic Development to the Crusade for Freedom. His presence is required at luncheon meetings, Mitchell says, every business day in the week for three months in advance.
The Mitchells’ social life he describes as “limited.” “I get stimulation from business. “Mama,” he says, referring to Mrs. Mitchell, “probably finds the life boring.” But as he explains: “Her job is to bring up the children [there are three, two of them by now grown], and keep my health reasonably good.”
His health appears to be excellent. His relaxation is gardening. The only thing that worries Mitchell is the thought of retirement. He reads–he has a library of some 2,000 biographies–but chiefly he reads “everything that’s been printed about retirement.” He believes he would have the inner resources to keep himself occupied; this is not what worries him. Mitchell explains it this way: he would be afraid, he says, that after he retired he might call up an old friend who was still active in business, and be told his friend was too busy to see him. “My ego would be hurt,” he says with a fleeting smile. He plans to spend more time, after a few years, in foreign countries, at the offices of Sylvania’s affiliates, and hopes thus to retire so gradually no one will notice, and no one will be too busy to see him when he calls.