Among gentlemen, price is a small matter


          My grandfather, R. L. Cox, sold fertilizer for the W. R. Grace Company for forty-five years. When he first started with W. R. Grace, he was offered three compensation options. He could take a straight salary with sales goals, a lower salary with sales bonuses, or straight commission. Footnote

R. L. requested the straight commission option. After about two years, W. R. Grace realized that if they left my grandfather on straight commission he was going to end up owning the company. So he was switched to a salary with incentive bonuses. A few years later, the sales manager at W. R. Grace remarked that my grandfather was the only person he had ever hired who took straight commission. R. L. replied that he knew that if he didn’t sell enough fertilizer to pay for his salary, he would be fired. And that if he sold more than enough to cover his salary, then he wanted a cut of the extra. But because selling fertilizer was such a seasonal business, R. L. and his good friend, June Martin, Sr., started a farm supply business to supplement their income during the lean months. They bought chickens and eggs from farmers and sold them horses, mules, barrels, and other implements of farming.


          By the time the Depression hit, my grandfather had firmly established himself as one of W. R. Grace’s best salesmen. When President Roosevelt declared a bank holiday and closed all the banks, it was the worst possible time for farmers. Roosevelt closed the banks just when the farmers needed to borrow money to buy fertilizer for the spring plantings. Being the salesman that he was, my grandfather saw the bank closings as an opportunity rife with possibilities rather than as a catastrophe that would ruin him. He knew that the farmers needed fertilizer, but didn’t have any cash. He also knew that W. R. Grace wanted to sell fertilizer, but would only accept cash. My grandfather decided that he would use his and June Martin’s farm business to bridge the gap created by the bank holiday. On the day the bank holiday was declared, a Friday, my grandfather’s farm supply business, by good fortune, had a whole truckload of chickens and eggs. He and June decided to sell the chickens and eggs for cash, use the cash to buy more, and then sell the farmers fertilizer and accept in payment the cash he had just given them for their chickens and eggs. The farmers sold their chickens and eggs and got their fertilizer. W. R. Grace got its money. And with some skillful maneuvering on their part, R. L. and June Martin stood to make a tidy profit on the entire arrangement.


          After careful consideration, they decided Philadelphia offered the most favorable market for chickens and eggs. Philadelphia was selected because the inhabitants of that city had a special fondness for brown eggs and the Dominecker chickens that laid them. This breed of chicken and their brown eggs were especially prevalent in Eastern North Carolina and the truckload that R. L. and June had were full of them. They recruited their best truck driver, Wade Weeks, to drive R. L. and the truck to Philadelphia.


          The cash flow problems plaguing the farmers in Eastern North Carolina in 1932 were being mirrored all over the country. One consequence, was that very little live produce and fresh vegetables were getting into the cities. When my grandfather arrived in Philadelphia, he had the first live chickens and fresh eggs to reach town in over a week. Upon entering the wholesale food district of Philadelphia, R. L. was besieged by merchants clambering to buy his chickens and professing, “Top price, I give you top price.” R. L. had no idea to whom he should sell. Finally an old gentleman of Eastern European extraction pushed his way to the front of the crowd and in thickly accented English proclaimed, “Pay no attention to these people, they have no money. I’ve got the money.” It was Abraham Tyszkiewicz. My grandfather intuitively took a liking to him and followed Abe Tyszkiewicz back to his office. Once in the office, R. L. and Abe negotiated a fair price for the chickens and eggs. Being an honorable man, R. L. didn’t attempt to take advantage of the situation and didn’t gouge Abe on the price. He was to be rewarded for this simple act of fair dealing for many years to come.


          Because the banks were still closed, my grandfather could not accept a check in payment. He had to be paid in cash and it had to be in small bills so that when he returned home he could buy more chickens and eggs. Abe was happy to accommodate R. L.’s request, provided that my grandfather agreed to sell him more chickens and eggs on his next trip to Philadelphia. When the time came for my grandfather to be paid, Abe called his wife into the room and said, “Momma, pay the man.” Mrs. Tyszkiewicz rolled up her skirt to reveal an Old World style multilayer petticoat. There were pockets sewn on the middle layer and money, sorted by denominations, filled these pockets. Mrs. Tyszkiewicz counted $1 and $5 bills until the full amount agreed upon was paid.


          When the money was stacked, it made quite a pile because it was in such small bills. Mr. Tyszkiewicz looked at the pile, looked at my grandfather, and then asked, “How you get this money home?” R. L. innocently replied that he intended to carry the money back in the truck. Abe quickly said, “Somebody rob you and you get killed,” and then assured my grandfather that half of Philadelphia would soon know that he had a large quantity of cash on his person. This was a real problem, because with the banks closed, R. L. had to get cash back to Mt. Olive. Stroking his chin, Abe Tyszkiewicz looked down deep in thought and an ingenious solution appeared before his eyes.


          Looking down, he had stared straight at my grandfather’s shoes, which were in a sorry state of repair. Abe sent R. L. a few doors down the street to purchase a new pair of “Friendly Fives” shoes that cost $5.00. Upon returning, R. L.’s old shoes went into the trash, his new shoes went on his feet, and the money went into the shoe box. Mrs. Tyszkiewicz wrapped the shoe box in heavy kraft paper and securely tied it with twine. My grandfather addressed the package to himself in Mt. Olive, NC and posted it for delivery. With this final detail complete, R. L. and Wade started back to Mt. Olive, but not before Mrs. Tyszkiewicz introduced both of them to a magnificent sampling of Eastern European cuisine.


          True to Abe’s warnings, about two miles outside Philadelphia, R. L. and Wade were stopped by a pair of rough looking characters. They probably would have been robbed, but for the timely appearance of a Pennsylvania State Trooper, who had been alerted by Abe Tyszkiewicz. Upon arriving in Mt. Olive, my grandfather went to the Post Office and picked up his shoe box, which arrived before he did. He opened it and all the money was there.


          Reflecting on his journey, R. L. realized he had gained something far more important than the profit on the sale of a few chickens and eggs. He had found a business partner whom he could trust. Abraham Tyszkiewicz probably had a dozen opportunities to swindle my grandfather and leave him with nothing. But not only had Abe treated R. L. fairly and honestly, but his sage advice had prevented others from robbing or cheating my grandfather. Abe’s attitude toward R. L. was in part formed by my grandfather dealing with him fairly rather than trying to gouge him on the price. Given the situation that existed in Philadelphia, many men would have tried to maximize their immediate profit. But Abe, my grandfather, and June Martin realized that, if handled with care, this was a business relationship that would bring far more profit to each of them than could ever be realized by any short-term sharp business dealings.


          With cash in hand, R. L. immediately set about buying more chickens and eggs from the farmers. Of course, as soon as they had the cash in their pockets, my grandfather sold them fertilizer and took back some, but not all, of the money. When Wade drove the truck around delivering fertilizer, he would pick up chickens and eggs. When the truck was empty of fertilizer and full of chickens and eggs, R. L. and June sent Wade off to Philadelphia with instructions to sell them to Abe Tyszkiewicz and no one else. Because the bank holiday was now over, Wade could now accept a check in payment. This second transaction went off without a hitch, including Wade again being the beneficiary of Mrs. Tyszkiewicz’s culinary largess.


          For many years thereafter, my grandfather and June Martin enjoyed a mutually profitable business relationship with Abraham Tyszkiewic. No contracts were needed, and Abe always paid a fair price for whatever they sent to Philadelphia. With a little trust, there is always enough for everyone.

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