Today is the birthday (1844) of Henry John Heinz, U.S. businessman of German descent who founded the H. J. Heinz Company. Normally I would be a tad reluctant to celebrate the founder of a multi-national company, particularly one that specialized in processed foods. But Heinz was a man of admirable qualities that are still reflected in the company (even behind the obvious public rhetoric). Among other things, Heinz was noted for his scrupulously honest business practices, his desire to make his products healthy and unadulterated, and his genuine concern for all his workers. When he ran the company he provided his employees with free medical care, recreation facilities such as gyms, swimming pools, and gardens; and educational opportunities such as libraries, free concerts, and lectures. Heinz also led a successful lobbying effort in favor of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. The point that seems lost on so many corporate “leaders” today is that Henry Heinz was an honest man turning an honest buck; he did not need to resort to unfair practices and backroom deals to be successful. Nor was greed his motive. He wanted his customers to enjoy his products because they were good. As such, I think his life is worthy of celebration. His motto was: “To do a common thing uncommonly well brings success.”
The following (in italics) is a slightly edited, and much abridged, appraisal of Heinz taken from George F. Redmond, Financial Giants of America (1922), Vol. 2, 286-295:
For some time he helped his father, who made bricks, until he observed that there was really more produce in the little four acre family garden than they could use themselves. He suggested that he might be able to sell the surplus in the neighborhood. With his father’s consent he started out on his first business venture. In one summer alone, before he had reached the age of seventeen, he sold over $2,000 of garden-truck from the Heinz farm.
He proved that he possessed the shrewd business ability of his ancestors and had an unlimited power to make friends. He was so successful with his small marketing business that his parents relinquished their fond hopes and wishes of some day seeing their son in the ministry. They sent him to a business college rather than to a theological school. There he studied hard, always keeping in mind the fact that he might learn something to help the folks “back home.” He specialized particularly in commercial accounting and sure enough, when he went back to the brickyard he became his father’s bookkeeper and assistant. He introduced new methods by which they could make brick in the winter as well as the summer. His father was justly proud and pleased and gave him a partnership in the business to show his appreciation.
Henry thought that the opportunities in his father’s business were not sufficient for him so he left, with his father’s consent and formed a partnership in Beaver Falls in a business similar to that of his father’s. When he had worked on the farm, and met with such success as a salesman he had had visions of a more extensive market for the produce. This idea was constantly in the back of his mind so he finally left brick-making and with L. C. Noble opened up a small packing and preserving house in one room of a small building in Sharpsburg, Pa. Heinz realized the value of concentrated effort so he at first dealt in horseradish only. All the raw product was taken from the little family garden and treated in a new way and bottled. Heinz himself used to peddle this horseradish carrying his stock in a basket. The business grew and he acquired a wheel-barrow to help him distribute the relish which met with such popularity. Finally he had to get a horse and wagon.
He added different lines of pickles, jams, and jellies as his profits warranted. E. J. Noble was added to the partnership and the business was moved to a large four story building in Pittsburgh. The Nobles retired from the firm after a very successful three years, and Henry Heinz in 1875 sold an interest to his brother, John H., and his cousin Frederick. In 1882 vinegar was added to the other relishes sold, and a vinegar plant was established. The business kept growing and in 1905 was incorporated with Henry John Heinz as president.
Through all the years of development Mr. Heinz insisted on absolute cleanliness throughout the plant. He saw the ideas of his youth bear fruit, and his plans and business ambitions always kept well ahead of the rapidly growing industry. From the first he wanted to give the public tasty relishes, well preserved and packed, at a reasonable price. Though he had many chances to make more by charging higher rates he never deviated from this underlying principle. It is said that his favorite maxim was “Make all you can honestly; save all you can prudently; give all you can wisely.”
[. . .]
Life insurance policies are given outright to any employee who has been with the company for three years. The face of the policy grows from $250 at its inception to $1,000, depending on the length of service of the worker. These policies have no red-tape attached and do not protect either the company or the employee, but are protection for the dependent the employee has chosen as his beneficiary.
Heinz established welfare work on a firm footing long before it came into vogue as a sound, paying business proposition for industrial concerns to adopt. He was animated not by the quest of the almighty dollar but by the thoughtfulness and generosity of his nature which was his outstanding characteristic. Of course he realized that welfare work increases the efficiency of his force thereby increases the output, but by no means did he put it on the basis of dollars and cents alone. He had erected a roof-garden, and under it a library, gymnasium, auditorium, picture-gallery, dance-hall, baths, swimming pool, educational classes, a hospital, and other projects of a similar nature. Such organizations as Dockstader’s Minstrels are taken to the Heinz plant to give a special performance whenever they come to town.
These activities and benefits are shared by friends as well as by employees. The customary notice “For Employees Only” is not seen in the welfare work of this great man. The homes of the employees are made brighter and happier by the philanthropy of the Heinz institution. Friends are always welcome at all amusement features. The Dental Department not only cares for the teeth of the employees but it gives instruction in oral hygiene to their families.
Heinz wanted to treat his co-workers fairly and squarely, and he did. In the matter of promotions, which has caused no little trouble in other plants, the existing atmosphere at the Heinz institution is reported by an employee who said, “The only man around here who has a better job than I have is the fellow who has been here longer.”A rather unusual business rule was adopted early in the life of the industry by Mr. Heinz which was adhered to always, namely “no one in my employ shall ever have his wages reduced.”
Another of the big business principles he put into practice and found very successful was that the organization must always be self-perpetuating. Everyone must have an understudy, and at the same time be understudying someone other than himself or herself. Through such a system, which provided amply for expansion, material for high salaried positions was always available without going afield to pick a man for the job. Heinz wanted his employees to know that they had a future before them, he wanted them to stay with his concern and grow with it.
The wonderful organization which he built up had as its basis his own personality. He was respected and loved by those who worked for him. He was always happy to talk, to work, or to play with even the commonest laborer. He knew many by name, and whenever he saw a new face when he went through the plant he made it a point to make the new man feel at home. He would always make the advances. This practice was so well known, and so highly thought of that it is the affectionate jest of many of the men to take one another by the arm and say imitatingly, “Young man, how long have you been with us?” Yet this is not done in the spirit of mockery, but is done with all due respect and pride in the fact that their employer was genuinely interested in them.
At Christmas time Heinz remembered every one of his employees. He originated the happy custom of giving to the parents in his employ a silver spoon, whenever the stork visits their household. The sick were visited by someone that he had sent, if he was unable to go himself. Weddings were made merrier, and the sadness of funerals soothed by the big-heartedness of the man. He relieved those in financial distress very quietly, frequently keeping his name out of the transaction entirely.
Years before his death Mr. Heinz said, “I am no longer trying to make money. What I am interested in now is to make more success.” And this was the thought he brought home at all the salesmen’s conventions. He did not talk of sales records, or quote prices, or complain about expenses. Instead he emphasized character above everything else. He once said, “Rather a man with 50 per cent ability and 100 per cent character than a man with 100 per cent ability and 50 per cent character.” In the sales rooms there is no motto to the effect that sales must be increased 100 per cent. Instead he had framed and placed there the quotation, “The ruling principle of our business must be to secure the permanent satisfaction of the consumer and the full confidence of the trade.”
Individually, the principles Henry Heinz instilled in his company can seem simple and almost quaint. Taken together though, they’re an all-too-rare combination in today’s business world. Fortunately, Henry Heinz himself showed that common sense, decency and social justice is a proven recipe for enduring business success.
I know this may seem like something of a puff piece, but it was written in 1922 when this sort of writing was more common, and shows genuine affection. I’ve hunted around a fair bit and have found nothing to contradict anything said here. It was NOT written by the company.
As a boy, Heinz baked beans and ketchup were household staples. There cannot be too many Brits or Aussies my age who did not have beans on toast on a regular basis. I’ve used a fair number of Heinz products over the years (which now include some items such as Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce, which are still indispensable in the kitchen). But rather than haul out a recipe with a Heinz product in it somewhere, I am simply going to give you two links. The first is to their general recipe area:
The second is to their British site focusing on beans (or beanz). Still a perennial favorite there, I gather.