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T. Spencer Shore

spencer shore

T. Spencer Shore

(1903 - 1987)

One never saw Spence Shore with a hair out of place, his tie askew, or his suit unpressed. If the speed limit was 55 miles an hour, one never found him going a mile over 55. Right was right, to Spence; standards were high and to be observed.

His associates at Eagle- Picher say that when Spence was chief executive officer there was never any question about ethics or standards of conduct: they were of the highest. Any possibility of shading a bit, slipping just a trace off the high road for the sake of expediency, stretching a little just this once, simply didn't exist. He had a clear sense of what was right and a total rejection of anything that was in the slightest degree wrong - whether it was in business, in his own dress and conduct, or in the table manners he insisted upon when dining with his grandchildren.

Clarence Dykstra, successively Cincinnati City Manager, national Director of Selective Service and Provost of the University of California, said of him, "I have never known as fine a man as Mr. Shore in all my years in business and government."

T. Spencer Shore was born in Chillicothe, Missouri, on June 24, 1903. He received two degrees from the University of Missouri in 1924, the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Journalism, and then went on to the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration where he received his MBA in 1926.

His first job was with Goldman Sachs & Co. on Wall Street, but in 1931 he left them to become assistant treasurer of the General Tire & Rubber Company in Akron. He progressed to vice-president-treasurer, director and membership on the executive committee. He served as a member of the War Production Board in Washington during World War II and then, in 1944, returned to the banking business with Goldman Sachs.

Spence had been a director of Eagle-Picher Company since 1943, and January 1, 1949 he left Goldman Sachs to become that company's president.

The Eagle- Picher news release (October, 1948) announcing the new president stated that the change in top management was made "to develop younger executive talent to assist in the direction of the company's greatly increased volume of business, broader diversification of products and processes, and extension of operations from New England to the Pacific Northwest and from Canada to Mexico." The Financial World of September 20, 1961, reviewing the situation, put it more succinctly: "His job, simply stated, was to rejuvenate the century-old company."

Reviewing the period later, a Company memo says "Since its beginning in 1843 as a producer of dry white lead, numerous changes have been made in Eagle- Picher Industries, Inc. These vital changes have been largely concentrated in the years dating back to January 1, 1949 when Mr. T. Spencer Shore became President of the Company. Actually this date marked the beginning of an epoch - an era of planned internal corporate growth and selective diversification. . . During this nineteen year period the Company has moved forward from lead and zinc mining- and-processing to a widely diversified multi-industry manufacturing company. This transition has meant liquidation of low-profit operations, growth from within and acquisitions."

Spence Shore provided the "leadership and vision", his colleagues say, that transformed the company from a highly cyclical lead mining and processing company into a well-diversified and stable manufacturer. Reviewing the period later, an unpublished Company history says Shore "brought new stridency to top management, and demanded that further growth take place under a set of business principles. Bowlby had liberated the Company, Shore would lead it into the new world."

The need for diversification had already been recognized, and Joel M. Bowlby, who preceded Spence as president, had started in that direction. But his move had been into consumer goods: household type batteries, linseed oil, paints, and such. The Company had established its own stores selling paints at retail. Problems were emerging, and Spence decided immediately this was wrong. The Company had no experience in consumer selling; he wanted to diversify, but made an abrupt and complete shift in direction. He sold off the consumer businesses, and sought expansion in the industrial field. He was determined to make it (and he used the phrase often) a "Manufacturer's manufacturer".

He was precise also in the kind of company he wished to acquire: 1) it must be number one or number 2 in its market, or its geographical area; and 2) it must be able to retain the sensitivity, flexibility, the general character of a small company.

In 1949 Eagle- richer operated 21 plants, with its products largely centered around lead, zinc and high temperature insulations. In 1979, a few years after Shore's retirement but achieved mainly in his term as chief executive officer, a Company memo reports it had 52 plants, and its products "find essential uses in the glass, ceramic, building, chemical, aerospace, food and beverage and agricultural industries; in the manufacture of automobiles, electronic, highway and farm equipment and in many other fields."

Spence took pleasure in the fact that when President Eisenhower delivered a Christmas Message from one of our first satellites in space, to restore public confidence that we could match the Soviet's achievement with Sputnick I, the message was powered by a special-purpose battery made by Eagle-Picher.

In fact, Eagle-Picher under Shore became a key player in the space program. The theme of the party given him at his retirement was "From mine to moon" - recognition of the fact that he had taken Eagle- richer from a simple mining company to one that played an essential role in man's landing on the moon. Several custom-made Eagle-Picher batteries performed highly specialized functions on the moonship; and the lunar module that took the astronauts across the moon terrain was powered entirely by Eagle- richer batteries.

That diversification and rejuvenation were needed was demonstrated to the new 46-year-old president in his first year: in 1949 the price of lead fell from 21 V2C to 12c and zinc dropped from 17V2c to 93/4c; the company took a beating.

That the company had picked the right man for the job also was soon demonstrated. A July, 1959 Forbes article calls Eagle- richer "a corporate structure Wall Street regards as so new that stockholders of just five years ago would hardly recognize it today. . . Long a low-margin bulk seller of lead and zinc (now) it is a profitable business indeed."

The same article says, "To end Eagle-Picher's vulnerability in metal prices, Shore set out to reduce his dependence on mining and smelting. He did so thorough a job of it, in fact, that today Eagle- Picher is a net buyer of lead, and its zinc operations are estimated to account for no more than 15% of its total volume." William Atteberry, who followed Shore as Company president, comments that the 15% figure "was probably high at the time; and today (1988) it would be three or four per cent."

Spence served as chief executive officer until 1968, and remained on the Board until 1973. He was wont to say, "1 am basically a financial man, not an operating man." But he soon demonstrated that he had his own ideas about management, and was effective in making them work.

One of his goals was to enjoy the advantages of a large company and also those of a small company. "He wanted it both ways," as Atteberry put it. To achieve this, he set up Divisions so they could, as he said, "do their own thing, with the advantage of being part of a large company." The Company had been highly centralized; he gave considerable autonomy to the Divisions. -They could handle their own research, sales, engineering, purchasing, operations in general. They were given, as the unpublished Company history puts it, "accountability based on return on invested capital".

His handling of these autonomous Division heads was characteristic. "He was a first class diplomat," Atteberry observes. "If he saw something wrong, he'd talk with the manager about it, ask questions, make suggestions: 'what do you suppose would happen if we did it this way?' he might ask. Without issuing an order, he would convince the manager that another wav was a better wav to do it. If he ran into a really stubborn individual, the conversation might end with Spence saying, 'Well, I think we're going to do it this way."

He managed through personal contact. He made a practise of visiting every Division every month. He would sit down with the Division Manager and two or three of the latter's key people, and talk about the business; what had the Division been doing, what did it plan to do . . . "He was very well versed constantly in what was going on in every Division," reports William Atteberry. "He didn't want his information flowing through a lot of people, he wanted to get it direct. And he did. He wouldn't depend on staff, visiting the Division and coming back telling him about it. Like most managers, he didn't like surprises. He knew what was going on."

Even when the number of Divisions grew and a group vice-president was on hand to make some of the monthly visits, Spence went along with him.

Meetings embracing the whole Eagle- richer management group were rare. With the high degree of decentralization established by Shore, a meeting would consist of the Division Manager involved, Spence and two or three of his top people - sales, production, finance, depending on the subject.

Shore was a firm believer in the Sales Department consisting of specialists. A salesman would usually be a highly qualified technical person. A single salesman could not properly, he felt, handle half a dozen different products of the type Eagle- richer was selling. The salesman should have full knowledge of his product, be prepared to answer technical questions, do some on-the-spot redesigning, do what was necessary to make it work properly. Before making calls, they spent time in the research operation, and at the plant producing the item. "If General Motors was buying six or eight Eagle- richer products," Atteberry said, "they would probably work with six or eight salesmen."

Spence was a stickler for a full day's work, as well as for dress, manner and the proper formalities. He was thoroughly organized and expected others to be. He would occasionally walk around the executive offices at the close of the day, and see what kind of shape his associates had left their offices in. "He never liked to see a bunch of stuff stacked on a desk, left out at night." This was, he believed, a sign of an unorganized person.

His own hours at the office "were the same as everybody else's," Shore's secretary, Betty Conway, reports. He very seldom took any work home with him. But traveling as much as he did during the week, he would often go to the office on Saturday to catch up.

Whatever his disciplines, he was well liked by company personnel. "He didn't have an enemy in the company," Atteberry says. "Some at times might not like what he was doing, but he was extremely well respected."

Ms. Conway agrees. "Everybody loved him," she reports. "He was extremely kind, concerned about everybody. If anyone at the office was sick, he was right there, being helpful." But, she adds, he could be very forceful, stern. "If someone did something wrong he'd let them know about it in no uncertain terms."

When he first came in as president, his actions inevitably ran into some grumbling dissent. The old timers, bred for years in a strictly mining company, wanted it to stay that way. Those who had been active in the diversification into consumer goods and saw that course reversed had some adjustments to make. But persuasion, diplomacy, plus the success of the new course dissolved any opposition. "He was a people person, could handle people."

His business activity extended beyond Eagle-Picher. He was a member of the Board of Directors of Armco, Cincinnati Gas & Electric Co., Central Trust Co., The Kroger Company, Federated Department Stores, Cluett, Peabody & Co., and the Cincinnati Reds.

He was a valued board member. Not the first to speak up on a debated issue, when he did speak he did it quietly, in clear concise language that carried conviction. Emotions could be mounting, the discussion becoming heated, but Spence's tone remained at the same level - calm, reasoned, quietly persuasive. His colleagues say he never spoke in anger, never pounded the table, but relied entirely on the logic of what he was saying. Similarly, one who worked with him at Eagle-Picher reports, "He could chew you out with the nicest words - but you certainly knew what he meant."

Spence Shore had strong convictions regarding an individual's responsibility to society. For many years he was a behind-the-scenes force in Republican politics, serving as Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Ohio Republican Party. 'Politics' was not for him a dirty word: it meant good citizenship, working for the things one believed in, fulfilling one's responsibility to help shape the society one lived in.

This was his message to the graduating class at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. where he received an honorary law degree in June, 1960. Each graduate is embarking on two jobs, he said. The first is to be a success in the vocational field in which one has chosen to work. The second is the job of citizenship - and he called it 'politics'. He was not saying simply that they should vote, was not asking them necessarily to run for public office; he urged them to accept what he called the far more demanding responsibility to use their education to "think through for yourselves the situation in which you find your nation, your state and your community."

Use your education, he said "to inquire diligently into the merits of leadership. Use it to bring your influence to bear on the decisions, great and small, that constitute government."

It was a recurring theme. In a talk to company employees he said, "Above all bring your great convictions to bear on politics - the politics of the world, your country, your state and your community."

Patriotism was an integral part of his make-up. When the Star Spangled Banner was played he was at full attention, broken only to "shhh" anyone callous enough to be talking. Buy a foreign car? "Don't even mention a foreign car to him," says his son, Tom. He walked out of the musical Hair when they desecrated the flag.

His community activities were many. He served as Chairman of the United Appeal drive, as co-chairman of the Fine Arts Fund, on the Citizens Development Committee and the Cincinnati Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

When the Chamber of Commerce sought to recognize his many contributions by naming him Great Living Cincinnatian, he declined - probably the only person in history to turn down this honor. He had no desire to be lauded in public. The Chamber sent an attractive young woman to his home to persuade him, and he finally acceded.

His loyalty to his alma mater was strong. He was an avid supporter of Missouri teams. His family tells of a game between Ohio State and Missouri. Spence's enthusiastic and vocal support of Missouri was not at all dampened by the fact that the Shore family were guests in the box of the president of Ohio State. "We were lucky to get out alive," a daughter says.

He loved sports generally, but only as an observer. He played a little golf but didn't enjoy it much; he wasn't very good, and "if you can't be the best," he felt, "there is no sense in doing it." But he never missed the opening ball game and was an enthusiastic and involved member of the board of the Cincinnati Reds. He had a seat in an enclosed box for the Bengals football games, sat with wife Harriet in the first row watching the game intently, quietly, taking no part in the idle chatter going on about him. He and Harriet had season tickets to the University of Cincinati basketball games, and were among the insufficient few to support ice hockey in Cincinnati.

He took seriously his role as father and grandfather and derived pleasure from it. He made a point of spending time with his grandchildren one on one, finding out what they were doing and thinking. There was "quite a bit of lecturing, too," the young report. He was intent on instilling into them some of the principles and standards that had guided his life.

Harriet Delicate was a freshman at Wellesley when a friend introduced Spence to her. As soon as she finished college in 1930, they were married. It was the middle of the depression and Harriet recalled that the budget was tight. "But," she said, "if he said go ahead and buy it, I knew there was money in the bank to pay for it."

They had three children, Thomas S. Shore, Jr.; Janet, who married Dr. Elmore A. Kindel, Jr.; and Harriet, nicknamed 'Bunny', who became Mrs. Donald Burke. At the time of his death, there were twelve grandchildren.

Spence was a member of the Commercial Club, the Harvard Club, the Queen City Club, the Queen City Optimists Club and the Cincinnati Country Club. One of the clubs he thoroughly enjoyed was the Question Club, comprised of top businessmen from allover the country. It was dedicated to good fellowship and intellectual discussion of subjects of prime importance to commerce, the nation and the future. According to Ms. Conway, what they did was "have a good old time."

He was a lean, trim man; "He was never a pound overweight in his life," Harriet reports. His dark hair was slicked back, parted far on the left. He was quiet in manner, quick to break into an engaging grin, always gave the impression of being completely under control. Even at the time of his death, June 2, 1987, shortly before his eighty-fourth birthday, he had a youthful look.

On the occasion of Spence's sixtieth birthday, William T. Earls, a prominent Cincinnati insurance executive, wrote him: "notwithstanding your great success and executive ability, you never lost your touch of kindness, your warmth toward people and your humble, yet confident and ever-gracious way. . . You are exactly the same as when we all first met you."

It is a fitting summary.

(With permission of the author.)