Bernard b. lane; the lane company
AMERICAN FURNITURE HALL OF FAME
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWS
MAY 30, 2000
Roy Briggs, Interviewer
INTERVIEWER: The first questions have to do with your personal background. When were you born?
LANE: I was born November 23, 1927.
INTERVIEWER: Was your family in furniture?
LANE: My father had been in it since 1912. The Bassetts were in furniture a few years before my father.
I grew up a block from where we are sitting, on 11th Street. My home address now is on Myrtle Lane. The neighbors took up a petition and changed the street name in honor of my mother who, from my military and school years on, lived not more than a block from where I am now.
Altavista Elementary School at that time was not in the school system. I was moved to the 9th grade at Randolph Macon Academy, which is a military school, and attended there through the 11th grade. Then my father and the president decided that since I had received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy (their examinations in those days were not SAT or standard application tests) that it was best for me to go to a special preparatory school that specialized in preparing students for the Naval Academy. That school was the Columbian Preparatory at 1445 Rhode Island Avenue in Washington, D.C.
I began the special course preparation at Columbian Preparatory in June 1945. After the course of preparation, extending from June 1945 to the Naval Academy exams in spring of 1946, I remained there at Columbian Prep and went to the Naval Academy in June of 1946.
I was successful in passing the Naval Academy exams and I entered a few days after Jimmy Carter, who would later be president, left the academy. We went through a rigorous orientation program. We didn’t have more than the normal Naval Academy experiences. We had a poor football team, so we had a lot of moral victories.
On June 2, 1950, I graduated. In the meantime, I had met my wife. We were married in Bassett, Virginia, in Pocahontas Baptist Church, which was built by the founder of Bassett Industries, J. D. Bassett, Sr., who is in the American Furniture Hall of Fame. Mr. and Mrs. Bassett, Sr. were at the wedding with their son Doug Bassett, who was later chairman of the board of Bassett Industries, and his wife.
I went into the Air Corps at that time because there was no U.S. Air Force declared as a separate service apart from the Army. In order to be commissioned as a second lieutenant, junior officers coming along had to go to Annapolis to enter the Air Corps.
I took that route in order to get a career specialty relevant to business. Had I gone in otherwise, I would have learned a lot about naval gunfire and tactics that would’ve been no value to me or my family. Also, I reasoned that by the time I completed my three¬-year service and hopefully entered the furniture business during my period of reserve activity, I would be acquiring additional skills that would be useful to the military in case I was called. That was the line of reasoning, and I took the Air Corps commission, as much as I did love the sea.
There was one other factor too; the Air Corps duty was generally on land, and you could have dependents. In the Navy, you didn’t have much of a home life. Little did I know that three weeks later, the North Koreans would invade South Korea. Most of my classmates were called away. One of them was on vacation in a National Park, and the ranger came and got him to report because they were leaving. I was really lucky in many ways that I took the Air Force.
Minnie and I were at the Homestead on our honeymoon when this occurred, more or less, and my orders did not change. I was to report to Lakeland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where I would receive orientation for several months in the Air Force procedures. While there, we were subjected to several days of aptitude tests that showed I was suited for administrative work in the Air Force – statistical, budget and accounting work. After that orientation was completed in December, my wife and I drove from San Antonio to Hamilton Air Force Base in California.
After I reported for duty, I met a young man there who had been involuntarily recalled – a World War II veteran, Robert Stuart Moore. Stuart Moore had attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute before the World War II draft caught up with him, and he entered the Army as a combat engineer during the last days of World War II. He then returned to college, this time to Southern Methodist University where he graduated. Following his graduation there, he applied to Harvard Business School and was accepted, and was a member of a very successful class that made their marks in various businesses later. I remember several of their names: Dick Galvery, the chairman of Clairol and then Clairol merged with another big pharmaceutical company. Also, a classmate was one of the top executives of Goldman Sachs, which in some way related to the decision of Lane when it went public to choose Goldman Sachs. My father was also a friend of the co-chairman of Goldman Sachs at the time.
Stuart Moore, being a bachelor, lived in a bachelor officer’s quarters during his temporary duty at Hamilton. To have a place to hang his hat, he was assigned to my office. Since he didn’t have much to do on the weekends, I invited him to spend the weekends with me at a beachfront place that we had rented temporarily in California – Bayside Acres in San Raphael, California. We got to be real good friends there. Then he moved on to his more permanent assignment as comptroller, reactivating Geiger Field in Spokane, Washington, which later was closed after World War II.
He had to return to Hamilton from time-to-time on business because the headquarters for the whole Western Air Defense Force was located there. So we would see him again and keep up with him. When his 17-month obligation as an involuntary veteran recall was completed, I recommended to my father that he consider him for a job at the Lane Company.
After some other adjustments, Stuart did accept the job and was hired while still on duty with the Air Force. He actually had more seniority than I did at the Lane Company.
As a boy, I worked at the Lane Company, although I was too young to go on payroll. My father paid me out of his own pocket. I helped with the filing department. Later on while I was attending Columbian Prep, I was part of the workforce because it was so desperate for labor. I served as a quality inspector on the last wartime project that Lane had, which was to make dog sleds for the Alaskan/Siberian campaign. While I was inspector on the dog sled project, our bomb was dropped and the war ended. I returned to school, as I stated earlier, and completed my preparation at the Naval Academy and went on.
Stuart had more seniority than I had, but there were times that I worked on and off the payroll. I had a lot of experiences.
My duty with the Air Force, following Hamilton, was in Saudi Arabia. The Air Force had a large base there, which was never acknowledged by the military. Our mission was to train the Saudi Arabian army people in Air Force administration. However, it was suspected that maybe one of our missions was to refuel and rearm the B-36 bombers that might be called upon in an emergency with the Soviet Union – to have a landing place, a refueling, and re-arming facility to return to another mission over the Soviet Union. That part of it was locked up, and even I didn’t have access to those facilities.
We spent a year in a very quiet environment while a lot of people were getting killed and otherwise involved in combat in Korea. Also, we had some nice leaves while we were there. We went to Paris and Rome, and my wife joined me. The chaplain organized a trip to Jerusalem, where we visited the Biblical sites. Since I was and am a Bible school teacher that was all very good enrichment for my biblical studies background.
My mother was always a Bible teacher. She taught me when I was a child. I have always been interested in and active in church affairs.
When I returned from Saudi Arabia, I was assigned to the development command in Florida. We had a nice time there, but I put in my resignation as soon as I arrived, and I was released in time to be home for Christmas in 1952.
Over the Christmas holidays, I was put on the payroll – January 4, 1954. It was the very same day that Bert J. Kline went on the payroll. As is indicated in my memoir, Bert Kline was probably the man most responsible for the success of the Lane Company’s efforts in the occasional table business, along with his designer, Andre.
After the success of the Lane table effort, my father, Hampton Powell and the board of directors decided to go into the bedroom and dining room business. Now during the World War II era, my father felt like he needed a furniture man on the Lane Company’s board. Dad always wanted to have a strong board that he reported to. He felt like everybody needed a boss. But the bankers and lawyers that he had had a different viewpoint. So he decided the man he would like to have on the board was Bill Bassett, who was at that time chairman of Bassett Furniture and was operating the W.M. Bassett Furniture Company. In those days they had three small tigers instead of one big one.
Bill came on the board, and from time-to-time Dad would drive over to Bassett to talk to Bill about what was on his mind. As he would approach the stoplight at the Hub Restaurant on 220 Business in Rocky Mount, he noticed a plant off to the right, which was then the Bald Knob Furniture Company. He thought someday it would be nice to own that and get into the bedroom and dining room business – sort of playing with the big boys. As an occasional and novelty furniture manufacturer, as one of the comedians said, “We didn’t get the same respect” that the boys in case goods got.
In 1956, about September, Mr. Jimmy Montgomery, a local lawyer or banker, and a distinguished Southern gentleman – white hair, blue shirts, pin-striped suits – appeared in our office. Within hours he told us the Angle family started, owned and controlled Bald Knob and wanted to sell.
My father agreed to look at it seriously and told Hamp and my brother, Ed, who was vice president of manufacturing. They went to Rocky Mount and looked the plant over. I think I went along with them. At the next board meeting, we directors (I think I was on the board of directors by then) voted to buy it. I remember very clearly: Bill Bassett had a little habit of sucking in his breath, and he sucked in his breath a couple of times and said, “Ed, you just saved the Lane stockholders $2 million.”
We bought it for about $3 million. I might add that we paid that back in a learning curve in the next several years. We had problems that we inherited that we didn’t know about. Within five years, though, we had it operating profitably. We saved that payroll for the community because I think that Bald Knob would have gone under within 30 days after the time we bought it. They were out of orders. They were not successful in competing with Bassett or Johnson Carper, the powerhouses of that day.
We found out immediately that not only was the warehouse at Rocky Mount full of furniture, but their sales reps had opened 18 other warehouses around the country with the idea that if they couldn’t beat Bassett and Johnson Carper on price, they could beat them on service. Unfortunately most of those warehousing programs didn’t work out, at least in furniture. They always ended up with the wrong stuff in the warehouse. It would be mismatched.
Stuart Moore, who had been moved over immediately as the Lane man on the ground, got control of that situation and began to move the inventory out. By the time I was brought in a year or two later, as assistant sales and merchandising manager, it was a real mess, just hundreds of odd items. I remember selling beds for $5 and odd dressers for $10, $20, $30.
Meanwhile, Bert Kline, Andy Buck and Warren Church, who was the cedar chest designer, kicked in and helped Hamp Powell to design a new line of furniture. We brought in a sales manager who had a good reputation, Johnny Justice, who worked for Morganton until they were acquired by Drexel.
Johnny and I had the responsibility of putting together the new line and a new sales force. Initially, Lane had used their cedar chest sales force and table sales force. But we knew if we were to do the right job, long-range, and not hurt the other producers, we had to have our own sales force. So we worked pretty hard to get a sales force together.
Johnny and I would go out usually one-at-a-time to work with the salesmen, call on the dealers, open new accounts. That’s what I did for about two years, between 1958 and 1960.
My brother Ed had been with the company before World War II and left to join the Naval Aviation Program during World War II. He is 14 years older than I. My mother had two crops of children; I was in the second crop. Ed was very forward-thinking and had an engineering degree, almost. Had he not dropped out to get married, he would have graduated from Virginia Tech.
In 1960, he had a lot of ideas about management that were progressive, but he and Dad had a lot of strong disagreements. Dad would sort of put these ideas down as building theory on top of theory. He said you could build on good experience, but if you build theory on top of theory, you’re going to get in trouble. So, he would put Ed, Jr. down by accusing him of building theory on top of theory. It finally got to the point where, because of personality issues within the company, Ed resigned.
I was transferred immediately from sales and merchandising to take Ed’s position as far as the manufacturing was concerned. I was titled vice president of manufacturing and director. This was only possible because of the support of Frank Holland, who was plant manager in Altavista.
Frank had cooperated with us in moving Dick Johnson to Rocky Mount, which became necessary to straighten out the manufacturing program. In 1964, it was under expansion, and we were building a large addition onto the plant. The people that we had brought in (one of the men was from the previous management) were set beyond their capacity. So Dick Johnson was moved from Altavista, and the plant improved after that.
Dick is an N.C. State graduate in industrial engineering from before they had the furniture course.
With a strong man, who had good management techniques and could rally the people around him, we got the manufacturing under pretty good control. By then we had a respectable line of bedroom and dining room designs, and we were very profitable.
That’s how it evolved from sudden transfer into manufacturing where I was propped up by Frank Collins and later joined by Dick Johnson from Rocky Mount. I had two solid manufacturing men. They were both elected vice presidents not too long after.
The Lane Company was always progressive. In the 1930s, my father went to Detroit to see how Henry Ford was making automobiles on a conveyer line. We had the first power conveyer in the Southern furniture industry.
Later in the 1930s, he began working on the idea of recycling the company’s waste. Up till then, he did as others did – burn the waste in the boiler to make steam, which was always needed. He had put in some electric generators beginning early in the 1920s. He had upgraded that equipment. We had a very respectable powerhouse. At one time he even supplied electricity for Altavista, Virginia, but he got tired of being woken up in the middle of the night with utility problems, so he sold that to a local company, and it took it over. But we kept the generators at the Lane Company right on up to the time I retired in 1987, August of 1987.
He was always looking around for “the one best way”. In the late 1930s or so, he decided that something better could be done with the waste besides burning it for power. He began to work with Virginia Tech and the Tennessee Valley Authority on turning that waste into chipboard, which was later called particleboard. The problem in the ’30s was that the glue that was available would not allow the board to form properly.
He began to learn about the resins that were being produced in Germany. He thought the resins would be the solution. But unfortunately, the war intruded on that, and progress had to be suspended.
The Lane Company moved into making war works. Part of the contracts that we got were for rudder assemblies for the third wooden aircraft used in training; I believe it was the BP-19. Later on, in an even more complex operation, we contracted to make bottoms for the Higgins landing boats that were used in the invasion of Europe. I remember seeing those molds that were half as big as this room. Quite an operation.
When Howard Hughes got his idea of building an airplane out of plywood, Hamp Powell was given the job of working with them on that, and we produced a lot of the top plywood that went into the so-called “scoop scooter”.
Those were the war years. I got into the tail end when we were making dog sleds.
Moving back to the 1960s, we were beginning to get pressure from our customers to offer group furniture. Drexel had their Declaration group and Tomlinson had their Sophisticate group. They were putting together a whole room full of furniture with upholstery, tables, pictures – collections that were beginning to extend into 40, 50, 60 pieces. Whereas, the normal treatment in those days were three-piece bedroom suites, or to be exactly accurate, four pieces – dresser, chest, mirror and bed. You could add the night tables, but that was not in the price.
Dad and Hamp knew that we would have to do something about that. Hamp began looking for the upholstery company. The one they settled on was Thayer Coggin in High Point. Thayer and his brother Clarence agreed to be acquired and came to Altavista. Our board of directors had lunch with them. There were just too many old bald-headed men sitting around the table. I think their sales manager, Dave Murray, and their designer, Milo Baughman, were working on it too. Anyway, they went back, thought better of it and decided they wanted to remain independent. I think they have been very successful and independent to the present day.
They let Hamp know that they didn’t want to go through with it. By that time they had signed all the documents, and the lawyer said, “Lane could nail you to the wall if they want to.” But we didn’t want anybody to be a part of the Lane Company that was not enthusiastic, whole-hearted and on the team. So, I just tore it up and started over. That meant that Hamp had to go back to High Point and Hickory and begin all over again, going to early morning breakfast spots and picking up all the information he could from the people having breakfast on their way to work. That was just the way he operated.
Eventually he found out that Buck was in poor health. Everyone had a very high regard for the line that he and his organization had built into the James River Collection and the occasional chairs and pieces that they had to augment the James River Collection to provide enough volume for their plants.
I think Buck knew that his days were limited. He had 52 percent of the stock, and he agreed with Hamp to be acquired. This was Hickory Chair Company. It didn’t take long to convince Buck and everybody that owned stock – the sales organization, the Foresters in Chicago that had a significant amount, his right-hand man that he worked with who had quite a few shares and so on.
We made the due diligence. After we walked through the factory, we all gathered in Buck’s office and shook hands on the deal.
As we were getting ready to leave, Buck kind of grinned and said, “Oh, I forgot to tell you, we’ve got a lawsuit for a million dollars from a dealer down near New Orleans.” I was just flabbergasted and jumped to my feet and said, “How could you forget a million dollars?”
Anyway, it didn’t stand in the way of the deal. Hamp took it on as a personal challenge. Very soon thereafter, he went to Louisiana and visited with the dealer. He admired the decoration of the store and the whole layout, asked him who his decorator and interior designer were. Then Hamp proceeded to hire the young man and move him to Altavista to help with the Lane line of tables and also with one of the little off-shoot lines of upholstery that Hickory Chair had that was struggling. That young man’s name was Chris Ellerfield.
Fred and I worked with Ralph Bowman, the right-hand man of Buck at Hickory Chair, to try to save that plant, which is on the other side of town. This is the one kind of thing that I really didn’t know if we should be in, but Ralph was very helpful. He told me that Buck bought that plant while he was having drinks over at the Elks Club and that the manager was at the club and Buck just…well, the way it was described to me, maybe Buck had had too many drinks, and he bought the plant.
It was sort of a low-end, knock-off line of Hickory Chair, which a lot of people were doing in those days. It was called Ashley. It had nothing to do with the very successful Wisconsin company by the name of Ashley. Some say that we wished we had registered the name, and then we could have been paid for the use of the name, but we weren’t into that kind of stuff.
We struggled with Ashley, and when we decided to close it down, Fred was scared to death. He thought he was going to be fired. But I said, “No, no, we’ve got plenty for you to do.” So, we closed it down, sold it off and kept going.
Soon after the purchase of Hickory Chair, we realized that Hickory Chair did not really fit the Lane line. First of all, they thought they had married beneath themselves. They didn’t respect the little cedar chests and the modern table line that Lane had as being anywhere near them in quality, appearance and design. We realized that if we were going to integrate the upholstery and wood, which we had started out to do about seven or eight years before, we had to have another line or two.
So, Hamp kept haunting the breakfast places in Hickory and High Point, and he decided that the Jones brothers at Hickory Tavern had the line that probably could come closest to integrating with the Lane line. He approached Johnny Jones, and after consulting with his brother, Bob, Johnny agreed to be acquired.
That was very interesting. I could tell you a lot of side stuff about that that doesn’t have a lot to do with business, but that was the first time the Lane Company ever got involved with a private jet, a corporate jet. The Jones’ had acquired this jet, which they used for personal business as well. Most people who have corporate jets use them for personal enjoyment. That didn’t fit into our overhead structure, so they sold it off.
Meanwhile, they were building a new plant alongside the Hickory Tavern plant to move up their lower-end, knock-off line, which as I said earlier, everybody was doing that in those days.
Bob’s middle name is Bruington. I saw a Bruington sign on the highway on Route 60 and 301 going north to Richmond. It sounded good, and the line was sold under the name of Bruington.
When they built the new plant down at Conover, they had nothing to do with the old one, which was one of those tin-on-wooden-frame plants that were characteristic of the furniture industry in those days. We moved the Bruington operation up to Conover and left the tin building down there to make their frames. The frames were air dried, which wasn’t so great, but that was one of the ways they could cut the price.
We struggled. We had to reconstitute the Bruington line because it just wasn’t successful. In fact, in the 1970s with Bruington, Hickory Tavern was still respectably profitable, and Lane had very high profit expectations. All the Lane managers, all the Lane employees were compensated significantly on profit-sharing. The higher you went in the organization, the higher percentage of your total pay at the end of the year was based on profit. There was always pressure for profit. Not problems, but profit.
The bottom line mattered at Lane, and Bruington was not really profitable. Barely profitable, and we just couldn’t deal with that. We began to put a lot of pressure on Johnny and Bob to get the profits up at Bruington. We tried a succession of merchandise managers, made some changes, and it was a long time before we ever got any profit out of that facility. We realized that we were not going to get it profitable as the low-end line for Hickory Tavern.
We came up with the idea of turning it into a modern line that was more compatible with Lane. We came up with the idea of changing the name to H.T.B. and still had a joint sales force to some degree.
“H.T.” was to recognize the heritage of Hickory Tavern and “B” was the heritage of Bruington. Then we would put a slash by it and put Lane behind that. We thought maybe a little bit of the Lane magic would rub off on it. We operated it with some success at that time under that format.
I’ve gotten a little bit ahead of myself. At the time Bruington was getting started in the new plant in Conover, Johnny came to us. He called Hamp and me one day and said, “I have the opportunity to hire a man from Horizon Furniture that can give us the same sort of casual packaged-room furniture that was so successful for Horizon.”
It seemed that there was an internal political situation there that he was not comfortable with. I guess he and Johnny Jones had gotten together, and as far as I know, Johnny and Rome weren’t kin. But Johnny hired Fred Preddy, made him general manager and gave him the old Bruington plant down on Highland Avenue, a block southwest of Hickory Chair.
Fred hung showroom partitions down from the rafters and had a pre-showing of his new line of Venture. Fred built up Venture to the point that we eventually had to build a plant for it. We were able to buy a part of a plant that already existed just a few hundred yards from Hickory Tavern and Bruington. We eventually transferred Venture down to that facility. As the styling was upgrading and the pricing was moving up to a profitable level, we needed a better finish. We were getting by with the finish. We built a finishing room for it using the Lane table line as a model.
I might fast forward to say that I have it on high authority that the Laneventure line today is the second most profitable line in Furniture Brands International. So, we came a long way from the $75,000 that we allocated to Johnny Jones to hire Fred and get his first line launched that year. We’ve come a long way baby!
We are very proud of what we have accomplished at Venture, and Fred Preddy really was the man that built Venture up to a highly acceptable line.
Some of the good folks up the road there in Lenoir also needed his talents, and I think he has done very well up there. He also had some personal family situations that, I think, dictated change for him at the time. We really hated to lose him.
We were getting a little bit thin on style and talent, and Johnny and I were aware that my new son-in-law used to work for Bloomingdale’s in New York; they were a major customer of Lane. They were highly regarded at the time for their style leadership, but he was hunting for a job.
He had been traveling all over the world, helping put together those country scenes packages they were presenting, and now that he had married my daughter, Lucy, he didn’t want to travel that much. He was interviewing with some other retailers, so we didn’t think that Bloomingdale’s would keep him very long, and we needed him. I think the management at Bloomingdale’s was very understanding. We had no fallout from that. So Ted Cohren moved to Hickory with my daughter and took over the styling of the H.T.B. line. We were trying to move it closer to Lane, but we never really integrated it at that time. Ted was vice president of merchandising. He really was doing a good job.
It’s hard to bring all these things along perfectly parallel, so I have to back up and start again.
During the rapid acquisition stage of Lane and Hamp Powell’s efforts, Hamp was really the man. Under my father’s prodding and with prior agreement when he took the job of vice president, Hamp and Dad were committed to expanding the Lane Company. Now this was not always a popular idea in the early days. There was some tension between the original cedar chest people and the diversified products. Most of the time everybody pitched in and helped.
After we got Hickory Tavern and Bruington, we were looking to where we should move next. We thought we had in place the elements to complete the package of wood and upholstery. It was just a matter in integrating them and making it work – which was not easy.
Hamp became aware that the most profitable company in the industry was La-Z-Boy. They were making profits beyond what we were making, beyond what any of the other profit leaders in the industry were making. Hamp always wanted to go, as it is said, to “where the cream was.” He didn’t care very much for the milk. (Being sort of a farm boy, he liked to use agricultural analogies.)
Hamp went to Michigan and talked with Mr. Knabusch, the elder Knabusch and co-founder at the time, and they talked about getting together with Lane. But they weren’t interested.
Hamp came back and reported, “Well, we’ll just have to go into the business ourselves – the hard way.” So he got Warren Trisch, who by then had retired from the Lane Company as a cedar chest designer but was still helping out with special projects. He was always a great team player.
Hamp was given the responsibility for the designer for the new recliner line. My brother, Landon, was kind of in charge of legal and administrative matters that nobody else wanted to fool with. He had a mind that thrived on that kind of thing, and he took care of the patent side with our attorneys in Washington.
He designed a chair. Hamp, through his early morning networking, found a mechanism manufacturer down in the High Point area; we found the quicker mechanism was the key. We set out and analyzed the La-Z-Boy product. It was a little bit short of styling; the seating was a little bit overly firm, the covers were not too exciting, and so we thought that by making the chair more comfortable and improving on some of the mechanism’s qualities, that we could find a niche and challenge there.
Meanwhile, Hamp had found out about a building that was being built on speculation in the newly developed industrial park area over in south High Point, near the bypass. Now it’s Business 85, I guess. He told me to go down there, inspect it and buy it if necessary. A few hours later, we owned a new plant. We moved the pilot operation for the chairs into that facility, hired a plant manager, and we were in the chair business. Most of the Lane salesmen were offered the sales.
That was going along. We were selling some chairs. But we knew it was going to be hard to build it from the ground up. A few months later, I think it was in Chicago Market (we were still showing there), Craft Associates, one of the companies we had bought from Pennsylvania, was showing there. Those fellows at Craft had been involved with a furniture conglomerate that owned Barcalounger and Stratolounger. They all were under the umbrella of Morris Futorian. They had all worked together at Futorian. These fellas that worked together at Futorian – one was in charge of manufacturing – Alvin E. “Bo” Bland who had left Futorian, and one of his assistants, W. G. “Mickey” Holliman. On their living room floor, they had laid out a product line and a whole manufacturing system.
They started up with local venture capital, we call it today, in Tupelo. It was an assembly line of reclining chairs. They had pretty much run out of venture capital and were ready for the next stage of capital. (All these things have evolved today, and they all have names. In those days, you just of sort of made it up as you went along.) So Bo was ready for the next stage of financing because he knew the Pearsall brothers at Craft, and we had acquired them in that frenzy of activity around 1969. This was about 1971, maybe summer or winter Market of 1972.
Bo walked into the Craft space and asked the Pearsall brothers, “How is it working for Lane?” According to the philosophy of management that Hamp and Dad had evolved, which we followed meticulously, they said, “Oh, well, it’s great. They give you all the money you need, they stay out of your way, and let you do your own thing.” They liked the sound of that. Then Adrian Pearsall took Bo down to the sixth floor to the Lane space and introduced him to Hamp Powell.
They got together, and in a very short time, they considered a merger that Lane would acquire Action.
I went down to Tupelo with Hamp to look over the situation, and Bo and I flew back to Altavista. I guess we landed in Greensboro, and I was driving an old Chevrolet that I still had. Bo Bland was with me and unfortunately the alternator went out on it. I began to have battery problems about Danville, but I managed to get into the motel in Altavista, the Embassy Motel, which is South Altavista on Route 29. It died on me in the driveway of the Embassy. I took Bo in and registered him into the Embassy. He checked in and spent the night.
The next day he told me that he had the flu. So we went over in another car, picked him up and brought him to my house, put him to bed, and told the maid to look after him until he got well two or three days later. Then we resumed our negotiations, went back to Winston-Salem to the law firm and attorney who represented us then, Leon Wright, who was on our board. We finished the merger there at the offices of Womble, Carlyle and Wolfe.
We knew we needed a mechanism plant; we managed to find one that was available, and we bought the mechanism plant. Then Bo could also make his mechanisms and get them from our plant. The people we bought it from also had a plant down in Eastern North Carolina near Lumberton and Red Springs in Robeson County, which has the largest concentration of American Indians in the Southeast. It is a poverty-stricken area. They were happy to have that plant, and we very quickly doubled or tripled the size of it. It became the principal supplier of mechanisms for Action. We just kind of closed the little Lane pilot operation there in High Point and later converted it to a mechanism plant, because by then we needed more mechanisms than we had springs to make, and it seemed to make sense to make them in High Point. I will tell you about that later.
Eventually, we decided to close the Red Springs plant, which was a blow to that area, and we were very sensitive to that.
By then we were really in the recliner business. Of course, along with our policy of integrating the newly acquired companies into the Lane Company structure, we brought the president of each company onto the board of the Lane Company. So Bo Bland came onto the board of Lane.
He was growing very rapidly. I would say that he was doubling sales every year or so. Because of what we call the profit-volume-factor, he was doubling or tripling his profits. In a few years, Action was the largest division of Lane, and generally made more profit dollars than any other division of Lane.
Meanwhile, we had to close Craft Associates because it just couldn’t make a profit. They had over-expanded about the time we bought them and consolidated their scattered manufacturing operations in the Wyoming Valley around Scranton and Wilkes-Bane. In spite of the best efforts of Hamp, Stuart Moore and the Pearsall brothers, who were good soldiers, we just had to close it down.
I’ve sort of skipped over Pearson because according to the best information I have, that was the most profitable position. Here I have to pause and really give credit where credit is due.
When we arrived at Hickory Chair, they were making an industry-standard type of profit. Going back to our Air Force experience, Stuart was a comptroller of an air base and a Harvard Business School graduate. I was a cost and budget officer, and before that Lane had brought in a consultant from New York – Stevenson, Jordon and Harrison. Lane had put in a standard cost system, which is generally based on the General Motors cost system. Stuart and I were immediately instilled with the Lane standard cost system, and Stuart got a complete grasp of how that caused profits to escalate. We had applied that very skillfully in the wood products and had a thorough understanding of how to maximize profits in the wood products.
When we got Hickory Chair, neither they, Hickory Tavern nor Pearson had any kind of conception of standard costs. I don’t know what you would call the cost system, but it was kind of a modified job-like system.
Stuart immersed himself in the grading structure of fabrics at Hickory Chair and everything relating to the upholstery business until he had a grasp of how to apply the standard cost principle to maximize profits at Lane, to the upholstery business. He and the comptroller at Hickory Chair developed that. One of the young men we sent down there from our management training program that Stuart and I had revised at the Lane Company helped us in acquiring Stuart’s evolving understanding of how to apply the Lane standard cost system to the upholstery industry and thereby maximize, escalate profits.
We applied that as best we could, but it was the Hickory Chair line and a different sort of product from Lane. When we got to the point of buying a more commercial line (which Pearson was), he took that and moved another one of our management trainees down to Pearson. We applied what we learned at Hickory Chair at Pearson and we doubled, tripled our profits at Pearson.
INTERVIEWER: Who was he?
LANE: There were two or three. They left and started their own businesses with other people in the High Point area. One of the men we moved down was Sam Boyd, who is president of Pearson today. He has always done a great job at whatever he had the opportunity to do. Young Julian, I think, the first one we sent down there, later started his own business. After he got promoted to president, he left us and started his business. We moved Sam down there about that time. Sam carried on the Lane method.
I just wanted to make sure this got in here because I’m not even sure I put this in my memoir in that kind of detail, but that had a lot to do with the profit. I would say it affected Action, but it wasn’t as significant at Action as it was in the more traditional products. We did move Lane-trained management trainees as employees to all cost departments. We moved them to Action. One of them happened to be my nephew, Landon Lane, Jr.
When Fred Preddy was at Venture he was really moving it ahead volume-wise, but he couldn’t get it to the bottom line. We began to find that the whole figure system there at that complex was not up to our standards. So we moved Landon, Jr. from Action in Tupelo, to the Jones complex, as we call it, in Conover. He got a grip on the figures and began working for Fred Preddy at Venture to get the profits up. Things improved there.
I just wanted to make the point about the Lane cost system and the Lane management trainees system that Stuart and I revised. My brother started it after World War II, but they got discouraged with the turnover of these young men that they brought in from N.C. State and Virginia Tech. Other people would hire them away after a few years. So Stuart and I revised that program, and we had a bench that was four and five people deep so every time we took over a company, we had somebody to move into that company and immediately put our systems in, get control of the figures, and try to help us build a profit. That was a big part of the Lane success.
However, the basic Action in Tupelo, if they recognized it, they never really gave us credit for it. They just thought they did it all themselves. There began to build up a basic significant tension between Action’s management and Lane’s.
They said, “All you people are making all that money up there, and we are the ones building the volume and the profits down here.”
We kept adjusting. We kept trying to increase their profit-sharing, increase their stock options, keep them satisfied, because we wanted to keep them on the team. They kept looking on us as a bunch of dowdy, old Virginia gentlemen, and we looked on them kind of laughingly as a bunch of Mississippi rednecks. It was good-natured, but it had gotten more and more serious as time went on.
By the time that Hamp retired in 1981, we were really having some serious management tensions within the company and the board. This is the part that I really want to tell you about.
With Hamp out of the picture, Stuart and I had to deal with this. Stuart had been put in charge of the Action division from the very beginning of the acquisitions by Hamp. I was always more or less responsible for the Western Carolina operations and the Virginia operations, and Stuart was responsible for Pearson and Action. So Stuart and I would discuss emerging problems. We kept trying to deal with it as best as we could, but not doing anything radical because at that point, I think they would have left Lane and started a competing company. We didn’t want that to happen.
Now looking back retrospectively, maybe I should have let it happen. But my concept was always to maximize the profits for the stockholders. I wanted to keep everybody together, keep the team together, and we took some risks as a result of that.
By 1984, two things were happening. First, my father’s estate had been settled and distributed. The Lane stock, through my father’s sisters and brothers, had been sold off bit-by-bit. While I never sold a share and Stuart Moore never sold a share, it was around, and of course, Goldman Sachs, our investment banker who took us public in 1968, I believe, was going after institutions. Institutions held big blocks, and they liked our stock.
It was my job to communicate with investment analysts at the institutions and brokers like Paine Webber and so forth to try to keep them informed and keep away from any legal problems.
Meanwhile, my wife’s family had put up all these little parallel companies going back to the earliest days of Bassett Furniture Industries; those companies were being sold off.
My children and my wife had inherited stock in those companies from my wife’s father and from some of the estate planning that her brother had done after their father’s death. My kids started getting all this money from the sale of Bassett family businesses. They were obviously looking for the best place to invest it, and they concluded that the best place to invest it was in the Lane Company. I did not want my directors to pick up a paper or get a listing or get a form from the SEC and see that my family was acquiring stock without them knowing it.
I announced to the board of directors that my family was going to make some personal investments to try to rebuild their position of stock that had been dissipated through my father’s generation dying off.
That was about the same time that the board had authorized Stuart, me and Mr. Thornhill, our chief financial officer, to acquire stock in the marketplace in a buyback program. We had one threatened take-over, and we had bought stocks back from that man who was a notorious raider at the time. We were looking to buy more stock back from the marketplace at favorable prices.
I think that specifically Mr. Bland, who was on the board, didn’t like the idea that the Lane family and the Lane management were going to increase from the present level of ownership to any significant degree and maintain the control of the company up here. I think this motivated him and maybe others to challenge me, and the methods that they used were to talk to other employees and high officials in the company and other board directors, outside directors, to see what were my shortcomings as a manager or if I had offended anyone along the way.
Well, Mr. Thornhill, Stuart Moore and I had worked together since our earliest days at the Lane Company and were a very effective team. I had been responsible to Mr. Thornhill’s position, the executive committee and the board when Hamp retired.
We had decided to close the Red Springs mechanism plant, so we were having an executive committee meeting in the Action space in High Point about that time (1984 or 1985), and we were wrestling with problems of the pension rights of those employees at Red Springs. Mr. Thornhill objected to my proposal as to how to compensate those employees on the pension and tried to maintain their service credit in the Lane pension plan. I got a little irritated with what I thought was nit-picking on his part about the details, and I said, “Oh, hell, Al, you know what we want to get done. Just get it done.” He was always able to figure anything that needed to be done in the financial area. Like most financial guys, he dotted the “i’s” and crossed the “t’s”.
Well, that statement came back to haunt me. A few months later I was confronted with statements from Bland and others such as, “We don’t like your management style.” That’s always a good one if you want to criticize somebody and get away from the specifics and the bottom line – just talk about their management style.
Maybe under ordinary circumstances, Stuart and I would have dealt with that. People always looked upon us as inseparable. From our Air Force days, our early days at the Lane Company, my father always compensated Stuart the same as he did me. He had the same letter of titles until Hamp moved up to chairman, and we had to have a president to replace him. As I said, Stuart and I were viewed as indivisible.
Stuart always smoked. My youngest son, Rick, would get up in his lap, and Stuart never married and never had children, so my children were kind of his children. My wife and he and I were always good buddies, from the Air Force days till Stuart’s death.
Stuart was on his way to High Point Market. I think it was in October of 1985, and he was having a problem breathing. Our vice president of sales was Glen Thomas, who had been brought back to be vice president of marketing. They were close friends, so Glen took him to Lynchburg General Hospital. He was admitted and put on a breathing system.
My wife was notified, and she immediately went to the hospital and began to look after him since the rest of us were at the Market. It was maybe a week or two before he could come back to work. Market was over, and he did get back to work. He came to me the first week he was back, I guess by then it was November, and he said, “B.B., there’s a problem with your management, and something is going around here that I don’t like.” I said, “Tell me more about it.” He said, “Well, I just suggest that you talk to some people.” He didn’t want to reveal any confidences or anything.
I then went around and talked to all my directors – the ones in Richmond, and the one in New York. The Southport co-chairman came down on our birthday, the 23rd of November, 1985.
Stuart and I met him, picked him up at the airport in Roanoke, and took him to the country club down in South Roanoke, not Hidden Valley. (I have now gotten involved in another group of Roanoke-ers at Hidden Valley, but that one was on the south side of Roanoke, so we had an out-of-town membership there.) We took Mr. Fred, co¬-chairman to the country club and had lunch, got a private room, talked this thing out.
It seemed that to keep from having a real cat-and-dog fight on the board, it would settle the issue if we recognized the fact that the Lane Company was now a public company even though the Lane family and I personally had significant holdings. We would communicate that I gave Stuart Moore the chief executive title, and I remained as chairman. I didn’t have any big problem with that. I felt my roots were so deep and my standing with the people in the plant, the town, the industry, was so strong that I didn’t need the title of chief executive. If Stuart needed it and wanted it, or Roland Sacks wanted it, or Mr. Bland wanted it, fine. I could live with that.
We rewrote the bylaws of the Lane Company, and elected Stuart chief executive. That was a very painful experience for my family and me, and there were a lot of things said questioning that. It created a considerable tension and grief among my children that their Uncle Stu had done this to us. I tried to play that down; we were all working for the welfare of the company stockholders, and it was no big deal.
That probably wouldn’t have been a big thing except emotionally. All these transitions in life are painful, and we had to recognize that we were no longer the dominate stockholders in the company. The institutions and other people were, and they wanted non-family. They wanted a public-type of board and maybe a non-executive chairman, but I didn’t worry about that.
We went along with that, and we all worked – had meetings to change how things were working – and we went along fine. But here’s the problem: You talked earlier about one of your early interviews with Paul; he probably never mentioned it. Paul had called me that summer and told me how wonderful it was working with Interco, how many millions of dollars he had in U.S. treasury bonds, and how he no longer had to sweat about the ups and downs of the furniture industry. He had a long contract with Interco and talked about how great it was. I said, “Well, you know, Paul, our fathers have known each other, and we have known each other, and I really appreciate this, but we want to remain independent.”
Now that Stuart was the chief executive officer, the approach was made to him, but this time it wasn’t from a second-generation old furniture family; it was from investment banker to investment banker to the chief executive officer. Then Stuart got a Federal Express letter or whatever, very formal, “We want to buy the company.”
We convened the rest of the meeting in New York that we had scheduled anyway, but we went to New York and got Goldman Sachs and an attorney who was noted for his successful defense who had developed this poison pill. We had the best talent. The only thing I didn’t like was the conditions of the Goldman Sachs contract. They made more money for selling us off than they did for defending us successfully. But they stonewalled Stuart and me at that moment before we went into negotiations. Otherwise they were going to withdraw as our investment bankers. They had been our investment bankers for 15 or 20 years, and Mr. Blumenthal had been on our board for 10 and just resigned in favor of a junior partner, who is now on the board of directors at Goldman Sachs.
We just didn’t want to go into the battle without Goldman Sachs, so we agreed to let them have the terms where they got paid for us leaving. I didn’t like that, but anyway, that was the way it was done.
We had the meeting. Marty Lipton, legal counsel, made a presentation to the board, and he said, “Gentlemen, the court cases have supported management and the board in every instance in rejecting these kinds of offers, but in order for you to prevail and avoid legal action, there are certain steps you must take to show serious consideration of this offer.”
This was in December. The board resolved to take the advice of counsel and to do all the necessary steps in order to comply with the law and court decisions. We did go through all that.
INTERVIEWER: What year was that?
LANE: December 19, 1986. I guess that the changes the year before at the directors’ meeting that spring were blood in the water for the sharks. They sensed a division within the company, and in spite of the rejection that I had given them and Stuart had given them earlier in the year, this time they were going for broke. They felt that they would prevail because there was division among the management, the management’s representatives on the board, and the board. I think that is how the Lane Company ended up being sold.
Anyway, as time went on, we had our meetings and discussions. What they call the red herring went out, and it was recorded on page 24 of the proxy statement that the board, with the exception of the chairman, Mr. Bernard B. Lane, Jr., voted to recommend this sale to the stockholders. So if anybody bothered to read 24 pages of legalese, they found out that I was against it.
Under the proxy rules that existed at that time, you could not communicate with the stockholders without filing a formal proxy, and you were limited to 30 people that you could talk to including children and grandchildren. I was virtually muffled in terms of being able to express my opposition to it. I had legal counsel, the top lawyer in Richmond, Virginia, and I was treading very softly because the Pennzoil case was on everybody’s mind in which that breakup and merger resulted in the payment in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars. We didn’t want to get involved in any of that corporately or personally. So we went into the stockholders meeting with our hands tied behind our backs and our voices muffled. But even so, the word gets around and the stockholders voted 70 percent in favor of the merger, and by Virginia corporate law 67 percent is required for corporate change or reorganization. The margin of victory was not overwhelming, nor did Interco brag loudly about their mandate.
Backing up a little bit, when we got back from the New York meeting, they had all gone home for Christmas. We were back in the New Year. Mr. Moore was playing it very cautiously for his own benefit as well as the stockholders.
No other employee or director voted against the merger because they all wanted to still have a job when Interco took over.
Stuart asked me in his office, and he laid open a document that outlined the stockholder’s rights in Virginia and other provisions that indicated to me clearly that he wanted me to take the leadership role in opposing the merger. I then called my legal counsel in Richmond, and we met at a restaurant in Virginia. The burning of the high bridge by General Lee’s troops as he marched towards Appomattox just before Lee’s retreat was on the wall. I walked past that to meet my legal counsel in the restaurant over lunch to discuss my position. By the end of lunch, Mr. Willard, my counsel, said, “B.B., you cannot go any further with this opposition and remain on the payroll.”
I went back to my office, got there about 2 o’clock, called in my secretary, Mrs. Virginia Thompson, and dictated my letter of resignation. She typed it up. I signed it. I walked out the door. That was the last time I was ever in the Lane Company as an employee.
The next morning was the stockholders meeting. Of course, all the stockholders in New York had great hunks of the stock and the proxies were all filled out.
INTERVIEWER: This freed you from the restriction of talking to 30 people?
LANE: No, I still had the restrictions on the proxy statement, but it freed me from any accusations that I was an employee opposing the will of the board of directors. We still had to hear from the stockholders.
The stockholders meeting was scheduled for the next morning. I think it was March 15, 1987. It might have been April 15. I called Johnny Jones, who was sympathetic to me, and asked him to come up to the stockholders meeting because he had already sent in his proxy approving the merger. He came up to attend the stockholders meeting.
In the meantime, my counsel from Richmond and I sat in this room where we are now, and we discussed how we would handle ourselves in this stockholders meeting, which was at 1 p.m. They arrived about 10, 10:30 a.m. I knew that Hamp was totally and emotionally opposed to this and that he and my family were the largest stockholders remaining outside.
He was alive and still of a sound mind, so my counsel said, “We cannot ethically ask Mr. Powell to join us in opposition under stockholder’s rights or any other qualifications without him being fully informed by legal counsel of the consequences.” So he said, “Where can we get legal counsel?” And I said, “My nephew John Lane is an attorney, practices in Virginia, and he has been so opposed to this that he has gone back and researched this thoroughly, so he is up-to-speed and qualified.” He said, “Call him.”
I called the Powell family, and Mrs. Powell and Mr. Powell came here and agreed for John Lane to represent them, and John Lane came here and spent a few minutes advising them of their rights and so on and how they should conduct themselves.
In the meanwhile, I was calling all my children who held proxies for their children and told them that if we invoked the rights, the merger would fall apart. We would probably be sued by Interco. Of course, with the damages they can sue your children, your grandchildren, and you can end up losing everything in a court judgment.
We didn’t want to lose the vote, but we didn’t want to lose all of our material and worldly goods. So we decided not to invoke the rights. We just spoke at the stockholders meeting along the lines that we felt that the present management structure and immediate chairman would serve the best interests in the long-range, despite the generous nature of the offer.
The employees, the customers, the townspeople who depended on the payroll would all be better served if we defeated this merger. That was the line of attack that we took in the stockholders meeting, which was well attended.
After this, the secretary of the meeting asked if anyone wanted to change their proxy; maybe one or two did. Then there was a tally and the results of the vote were 70.3 percent for the merger and only 66.23 percent was required.
We all left the meeting a little bit down. My wife had prepared kind of a “wake” luncheon. Then we had to get on with the rest of our lives.
My son Douglas was always a favorite of Stuart’s. Once when we were having a long after-dinner conversation downstairs in our den, Doug had stayed behind after the other children had gone to bed. He got in the corner, hid himself and listened to us talk. He always loved to hear Uncle Stu. One time Stuart asked him, “Doug, what would you like to do when you grow up?” He said, “I would like to have your job, Uncle Stu.” By then Stuart was the president of Lane Company.
INTERVIEWER: Are you saying which way Stuart voted?
LANE: Yes. All the directors and employees that I know of voted for the merger. I don’t think anybody was anxious to lose their jobs. Doug stayed on as long as Stuart was there. I think Doug was given a fair shake.
Stuart continued on and he dealt with the issues before him. He went to the Far East with us on a charity trip. I had increased my participation in several charities that I was involved in. I told him we were going to have a meeting of my charities in Seoul, Korea, and then we would be adjourned in the south of Japan where there was a rural thing going on. He had never been to the Far East. All of his military service was in Europe; all his business efforts were in Europe. He would go to England and so forth but he had never been to the Far East.
He was on oxygen continually. This was in 1990. We arranged to have oxygen on the airplane for him. Each of my charity stops arranged to have oxygen, which is not always easy to acquire in Korea and Japan. They arranged for someone to be with him, to push his wheelchair, to provide transportation for him. We had a very good trip to Korea and Japan.
We came home and within a year or so he was at home continually on oxygen, not able to go to the office, but they were keeping him on the board of Furniture Brands International.
They had reorganized the corporate structure of Furniture Brands International after they went through chapter 11 bankruptcy because of a restructuring plan that they devised in order to prevent being taken over in a tender offer by the Dynahood Corporation in Washington, D.C. I know that company is still a very profitable company and has made numerous acquisitions, but none in the furniture industry, I might say. Maybe that’s the reason they are so profitable.
I think that the then-chairman of Furniture Brands wanted Stuart on the board because Stuart had been very supportive of them in their willingness to take over and voting for the plan (which resulted in bankruptcy and voting for the new structure that led them out of chapter 11 to their present corporate structure.) As a loyal director, they wanted to keep him on so he remained at home on the payroll. Only a matter of days before his death did he go off the payroll for pension purposes.
In the meantime, my wife acquired a nursing staff for Stuart. She saw to it that he had continual attention – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We took him meals to augment what his personal staff could cook. We visited him regularly.
I was scheduled to make the tour of our support at Geneva, Switzerland. My wife was scheduled to go with me on that trip to England, Norway and Switzerland, but Stuart became acutely ill, went into intensive care at the local hospital and then died. My wife cancelled the trip and stayed with him till his dying day. We were the principal “family” at his funeral and I delivered the eulogy at his funeral.
Not long after that, my son Douglas felt that he did not fit in with the court of the other members of the management at Lane. He was president of the Lane division. He resigned. He went to work with his brother-in-law in North Carolina.
After I left Lane, my son-in-law left the Lane Conover operation and started his own business, which has been very successful and profitable.
INTERVIEWER: He is the one coming from Bloomingdale’s?
LANE: Yes, it’s called Designmaster Furniture. It’s grown every year. When Doug was there, it grew even more rapidly, but they never could quite tie down the ownership arrangement.
Doug began to look toward the investments counseling financial services. He took the courses and examinations for financial services.
The franchise was available for Lynchburg, Virginia. He is now operating the franchise in Lynchburg.
Stuart and I bought property and built houses at Smith Mountain Lake before the water was in the lake. The children always went out on the boats and learned to fish at Smith Mountain Lake. Doug has always been the avid fisherman in the family. He has traveled to Alaska and Montana and all over to fish, and now he is a fly fisherman and is a professional guide.
We have all formed a life after the furniture business. There is life after the furniture business.
The Lane Company is now at the point that the headquarters have been moved to Tupelo, Mississippi. Most of the labor force in Altavista has been laid off. The table products have been moved to the Rocky Mount plant. The management has been given, in a few instances, the option to move to Mississippi; most have declined. A number of managers, including people we hired and trained from our college recruiting days, have lost their jobs, taken early retirement and so on.
It’s sad for me to see what was the looting of the economic structure in Altavista, Virginia. It has one-by-one moved elsewhere.
When I’m at the post office picking up my mail or my wife is at the grocery store or when we’re at the lake and we attend a church where a number of employees and former employees are members of the church, we have to deal with questions like, “Isn’t it terrible this is happening to Lane Company?” and “What do you think of it?”
My reply is simple: it is a very tough road out there today with the international trade. They have to deal with situations much more difficult than we ever did and I’m simply thankful that I don’t have to make the decisions they have to make. And that is the end of the conversation.
There may be some things I’ve missed and there may be some things I have to revisit, but that is kind of the end of my tale. I simply wanted to make sure that what I have experienced and am aware of from first-hand knowledge and a sense of second-hand from Hamp and my father is available so the people understand what happened, how it happened and why it happened. I worked hard at reconciliation. As a Christian, that has been part of my personal journey of faith.
As I told someone the other day who was talking to me along those lines, I have not only had to work hard at reconciliation after the things that took place among Stuart Moore, the Lane Company and me, but I have also dealt with the Vietnam issue. I was not involved in the Vietnam War but as a military officer, I had my strong opinions on that and some of my roommates had assignments in Vietnam. I’ve heard viewpoints of officers who served in Vietnam and all the forces of naval, marine, air. I have very strong opinions about how that war was mismanaged by the people in Washington. We were not allowed to win that war but in spite of that, I have led the efforts to feed the hungry, to open relief offices in Vietnam. I have personally helped to register that charity in Hanoi. I met with the government officials. I met with a strategist who designed the successful North Vietnamese strategy and had dinner with him and his wife. I have worked hard to reconcile on an international basis as well as a personal basis.
That is really my motive in giving this interview and being willing to be a part of the oral history program of the Hall of Fame.
As the record shows, the Minnie and Bernard Lane Foundation, which is the core of my life and personal activities and our charitable giving, has been a supporter of the Hall of Fame since Bob Spilman and others started it. I appreciate the opportunity to share this with you. If you have any questions or there’s anything we have missed, I will be happy to share that with you.
INTERVIEWER: Was your family in furniture, your in-laws? Tell us about them. We have brought in a lot of the Bassett connection but is there anything else that needs to be discussed as connected with furniture?
LANE: My grandfather was a heavy contractor. He never was in the furniture business, never had any idea of being in the furniture business. He was building this railroad that you see out the window here, and he and his brothers were partners in the business and had started the town up near Charlottesville, Virginia. I think it’s named Esmont. It never amounted to a lot but they gave some property and started a town.
When they started the railroad, it was going to cross the main line of the Southern here at the Roanoke River and they thought it would be a good place for a town. They eventually acquired the land that is the town of Altavista. They had their engineer lay out the town; he swung a one-mile circle from the town hall location. It is bordered by the river on the south and that was the limit of the town until 1967.
They zoned it “industrial” along the railroad. They had the businesses about a block away and then they built the plans for the houses to be above the Southern Railway tracks. They dedicated the residential area between 10th Street and 11th Street to a Methodist Church on the northeast corner, and Bassett Church on the southeast corner. They planned for the Presbyterian Church to be on the northwest corner. All of the residences were to be up and off from that block.
They needed to have industries and businesses there to have people to buy the houses and buy the lots, and two or three business started up. One of them made cedar chests and another one made wooden boxes. Both of them went broke.
My grandfather meanwhile had gotten a contract to build a dam near Macon, Georgia on a river. My father was attending Virginia Tech. They had an epidemic near Christmas and my father caught the bug. They shut the school down and sent them all home. So my father went back to the estate at Esmont. His mother caught the bug while nursing my father. She then thought she had recovered from it, took a bath, got pneumonia and died. My grandfather, after a period of grief, went back to Georgia to finish the dam. While he was there he met and married a very attractive red-haired lady. I think her name was Mrs. Buchanan. He brought her back to the estate at Esmont, which is called Guthrie Hall. The building still exists today.
Meanwhile, my father had left Virginia Tech to run the farm and take care of his business interests around Guthrie Hall. He had things pretty well in-hand. He was a born manager. When my grandfather and his new wife got back, they settled into what they called Mrs. Johnny after the wife from Georgia. But his wife became irritated that the help didn’t come to her, but went to my father who was 21 years old. So she laid down an ultimatum to my grandfather. She said that she didn’t like the set-up and unless Edward left, she was going back to Georgia.
My grandfather took my father aside and said, “We’ve got this problem, son,” and explained it to him. My father said, “I’ll leave because this is a nice lady. You need her here; my sisters need a mama.” My grandfather said, “Son, I won’t put you out with nothing. The other day at the sheriff’s auction, I bought a box plant down in Altavista for $500 and I want you to go down there and make some money.” So he did.
My youngest son, Rick, is now a software entrepreneur in Austin, Texas. When he left Williams College in 1980, we made a contract with him to write a history of the Lane Company where Helen Lane had left off in 1962.
He went back to the original records of the Lane Company. He went back to the register of the hotel that was run by my father’s aunt, Mrs. McCutchin. He found the day that my father checked into the hotel, took a trip and noted how long he was there and so on.
He had taken over the box plant and he was intending to make a future of it making cedar chests. Meanwhile, since Altavista was a transfer point between the east and west railroads in Virginia and the north and south railroad, there were a lot of visitors who came to the hotel, which is located right by the Southern Railway, a block from the Virginia right-of-way.
He encountered his Virginia Tech woodworking professor; I think his name was Professor Leath. He said, “Professor, would you go down to this plant that I’ve got and tell me what I need to make cedar chests?” The professor walked around. He was very unimpressed with the three-sided metal building. They went back to the hotel and talked about it. The professor said, “You can’t make any furniture with this equipment. It is very crude. For making boxes it’s all right, but you can’t make furniture for sale.” My father said, “Tell me what I need.” They made out a diagram of the plant, what the layout should be, and a list of the machinery and things they needed.
When my father called up the reps of furniture manufacturing machinery and told them to come by, he went over it with each one of them. Finally he bought the equipment from the one that was giving the longest time to pay for it. Then his father came down to inspect what he had done. He went over the whole thing with him, and the story I always heard, which my son Rick got a more accurate version of, was the story told to me by my father – that he obliged his father for $50,000 worth of machinery. Grandfather hit the ceiling and said, “What are you trying to do, son, break me?” My father replied, “We are going to sell all these cedar chests and make enough money to pay for this and you are never going to have to put any more money into it.” And in fact, that is the way it turned out.
Fifteen years later my grandfather fell into poor health and put his youngest son in charge of his construction company. They got an unfortunate contract to build a road from Alexandria to Fairfax to Falls Church, Virginia. Due to the way the highway department took the road up mile-by-mile, every Saturday night the drunks would get on the road and tear up the shoulder. Monday the state inspector would come around and reject the application for certification. This went on until they were about to go broke.
My father went to Richmond and talked to General Shirley who was head of the highway department and said, “General, if you keep on this way, Lane Brothers Construction will go bankrupt and you are going to have to get the bonding company to complete the road. Please take it over mile-by-mile.” Dad got them to take it over mile-by-mile and then got the cash flow coming back in to save the company.
In the meantime to keep the company afloat, my grandfather had continued to borrow money from the two banks in Charlottesville. One of the bankers was one of the men who helped control the paper. He wanted to the buy the Lane Company. By then it was a growing concern even with national advertising. He was bragging around Charlottesville that he was going to own the Lane Company. All the Lane Company stock was put up on the Lane Construction loan. They weren’t able to pay it off.
My father went up and talked to Judge Mickey at the People’s Bank of Charlottesville and the National Bank of Charlottesville where the loan was held. Judge Mickey said he would lend him the $50,000 on faith because everything that he had promised him to do, he had already done or better. He wrote out some sort of document, gave it to him, told him to go up to the other bank and get the Lane Company stock and bring it down here. So that’s how the Lane Company was saved and the family retained ownership in the Lane Company. From that point on the Lane Company was the only asset that my grandfather and his heirs had.
When he died a few years later, the stock was then distributed to his children equally. Though my father was the operating head of the business, my grandfather was the chairman of the board and kept control of the company partly because Mrs. Johnny didn’t trust my father. The stock began to be distributed to my father’s siblings. It was that way until they died off. Some of them had rich tastes, and from time to time they would sell a few shares, but dad generally kept them from selling any of the stock.
Until dad died, I don’t think any of the Lane family stock was ever sold. One of my brothers had some personal financial obligations and he had to sell some, but generally it was not approved to sell Lane Company stock.
INTERVIEWER: You mean outside the family?
LANE: Yes. Meanwhile dad and Hamp would buy up every share that came available. They had relations with the brokers and they knew when it was coming up. They would go to members of the management and they would offer this as a kind of “chance of a lifetime” to get a few shares of Lane Company stock. That way among the family, the employees and the board of directors the control of the company was undisputed until after my father’s death. There’s a wide range of opinion about whether the family had any connections, but that’s the story as far as the Lane family ownership in the furniture company is concerned.
INTERVIEWER: You have covered this but I am a little uncertain: do you still have family in furniture?
LANE: As I indicated my son Doug stayed after Uncle Stu’s death and became president of the Lane division. He left to join his brother-in-law, my daughter’s husband, and then started his own business about the time that I changed from chairman and chief executive to chairman only. He and the new management structure that Stuart Moore put in place didn’t see eye-to-eye until he and some of the other employees down there left and started their own businesses. None of them have been wildly successful but my son-in-law has been very successful. Doug is not in the furniture business. The only furniture connection I have now is by my brother-in-law, John Bassett who is the chief executive of Vaughan-Bassett.
INTERVIEWER: Describe your growing up years, which you have done. You stressed that you worked at the factory. Is there anything else that needs to be said there?
LANE: Before I was old enough to work in the factory, my father had a vegetable garden out here about a hundred yards from where we sit. He had a wonderful old colored man we called Uncle John Malley and we would help Uncle John pull weeds, pick strawberries and things in the garden. When I got old enough to work at the Lane Company, I worked in the office in the summers. Later when I was a little bit older, I could work on the production line. My brother John and I followed parallel paths heading for the furniture industry until he and dad had a very straight talk and Dad found out that John wanted to be a doctor.
He transferred from Virginia Tech to Duke where he graduated with a doctorate in medicine and practiced for a few years in Durham in cancer oncology.
Landon, my older brother, and my surviving oldest brother Ed Lane, Jr. continued in the furniture business until their retirement. For a long time dad had with him three of his own sons. It was interesting. The timing was such that brother John decided not to come into the family business but to become a doctor at the same time that Stuart Moore entered the company. He was about the same age and I think that dad transferred his ambitions for John to Stuart. I think that is another reason that Stuart and I were always treated equally.
INTERVIEWER: You’ve told us where you went to college. What was your major?
LANE: We had one choice at the Naval Academy: which foreign language we wanted to learn. So my degree was in electrical engineering.
INTERVIEWER: Doesn’t everybody get that degree at the Naval Academy?
LANE: They did in those days. Today they have a great many choices. They can take economics, business, history, psychology. In those days the only choice you had was which foreign language and I chose German, partly because everybody was just into the World War II thing and also because the furniture industry in Germany was very progressive. I mentioned earlier but I didn’t go into detail about the power conveyer line that dad copied from Henry Ford. But I didn’t finish the story about the chip core.
After World War II, the German resins became available again. An American company under licensing developed urea-formaldehyde resin and we were able to perfect the Lane wood process by using the German-based resins. The first Lane wood was made on a simple comp press in this extra building that dad had available in Altavista. He, Hamp, Ed, Jr. and Frank Holland developed construction for the cedar chest tops using Lane wood as the core from the hot press.
But dad wasn’t satisfied with that. He wanted a complete continuous extrusion of chip board coming out on a continuous basis. So he and Johnny Crafton with the help of the north shops in Roanoke designed and built a narrow, 2-foot-wide extrusion press. They switched from multi-panel pressing to sheet, and that was the product for several years.
In 1954 using some of the acquaintances that my father developed in the 1930s when he was trying to start a business in England, he found out about an English production manager who was available who had been working for the largest furniture factory in the world at that time, Liebus (which is no longer). He found he could hire this man. So he brought Ralph Dolman Bibby over from England and he installed him as works manager of the Lane Company alongside of my brother Ed. Mr. Bibby was an English upperclassman and that didn’t go over too well in our district. A lot of folks in our district grieved to Stuart for Mr. Bibby.
He worked with Adamson United in Akron, Ohio, to engineer and build a really proper Lane wood press, which they patented. We installed that press in the extended building in Altavista. I don’t know exactly where it is today but when I left about 30 years later that number one press was still extruding 24 hours a day and there were four other updated copies of that press parallel to it. There were five Lane extruding presses producing core 24 hours a day off that Bibby-Adamson design. We sold it to several people in the United States and also in Bolivia.
INTERVIEWER: John Christian Bernhardt went on and on about the fact that the plant in Lenoir was a co-operative venture. There was one in High Point too, called U.S. Coreboard.
LANE: Lane itself was the biggest contract we ever got. We sold five of those to Anderson & Company of U.S. Coreboard. They were not successful the first go around so Broyhill bought it.
Interestingly enough the Bassetts never would buy it. On his death bed, Doug Bassett told me that was a mistake. He had given Bob Spilman an assignment to get them into the chip board business. Bob went around to all his suppliers and picked their brains but he wouldn’t let any of them do a turnkey job. He picked what he thought were the best elements of all the equipment and hired a consultant. The Bassett fiberboard plant was based on the work that Bob put together. Bob and Bassett never bought a Lane wood press.
I don’t know if it was jealousy or what, but they were way behind getting into it. I must say, when they got into it, they had the best technology and the board was superior in its characteristics to the Lane board.
INTERVIEWER: Back to the Naval Academy, what significant happenings there have affected your life? From what you’ve said, I would say the acquaintance with Stuart Moore was significant.
LANE: Yes. He came out later. By taking my commission in the Air Force I met him.
I was 17 years on the board of Randolph Macon Academy and probably excessively praised by the president, not the current one, but the previous one. Our family’s philanthropy saved the Academy from bankruptcy, and helped it rise to its present unique position in the secondary education field.
As far as the Academy is concerned, it gave me the discipline and the understanding of military structure that allowed me to move into the Naval Academy with very little problem. The only challenge I had at the Naval Academy was the first course in mechanical drawing. I had never had hands-on mechanical ability. It was difficult for me the first semester to begin to deal with engineering drawings, basic mechanisms and mechanical structures. When it moved from that to the conceptual areas – thermodynamics, calculus, things of that nature – I excelled in those. But I never felt that I was really strong as a mechanic unfortunately because it didn’t pass through my genes. Even to the present day I have a cousin who makes his living as a mechanic but I didn’t have that talent.
LANE: The Naval Academy gave me discipline, structure and an engineering education. My father greatly believed in the military model and everything he did was based on that. My brother Ed once said, “To understand our father, you need to buy this book on Bismarck,” which I did.
INTERVIEWER: Is there anything else to be added about the furniture industry in general? What was your first furniture job? Do you remember who your boss was?
LANE: Yes. I worked with Mrs. Margaret Hodges. Her son, Sonny Hodges, Darrell Hodges, Jr., later became plant manager of Lane’s plant #4. He worked his way up all the way through the business. The following year, as I was getting a little older and had little better education, I was put in the industrial engineering department under R. Neill Echerd, who was a classmate of my brother’s at Virginia Tech. Because Neill had very poor eyesight, he was never drafted in World War II. Neill put together the earliest time study of industrial engineering in the country for the Lane Company. He was later in charge of production control and product engineering. Because he was a native of Hickory, by his request we transferred him to Hickory Chair. He retired from Hickory Chair and died a number of years ago. Neill Echerd was my first real boss at the Lane Company and a business associate for many years. A very valued one, too.
INTERVIEWER: In addition to what you have already told, is there anything else you can tell us about the industry at that time? Whom did you work with?
LANE: My wife said yesterday in a similar conversation that the furniture industry was one big family at that time. It was composed of family businesses; my father knew all the industry leaders: the Broyhills, the Finches, the Bassetts. That ultimately led to my meeting my wife, who is Bill Bassett and Doug Bassett’s sister.
When I came into the industry, I didn’t know a thing about furniture except a little bit I had absorbed during the summers at the Lane Company. I quickly joined the production and cost division of the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association. There I was able to rub against people like Jack Rochelle who was the vice president of Globe Furniture, which at that time was the real beginning of coordinated designs of upholstery and wood. Jack was sort of my mentor and saw to it that I had a chance to learn from other manufacturers.
Jack quickly changed my name. Ever since I was a baby, I was called B.B., and Jack said, “B.B. will not do for you! You are way beyond being a BB!” (You know, like being a BB gun.) He would always greet me with “Cannon Ball!” Maybe it had something to do with B.B. but he would always say, “Cannon Ball, how are you?”
I remember the years with Jack. Those were the great learning years. Lane wasn’t known as a real cut-throat competitor by most people and as long as we were just a cedar chest manufacturer, anybody’s plant was open to us. In fact a lot of cedar chest designs were absolutely direct copies off the bedroom suites of the major manufacturers; we wanted to make sure the finishes matched so the suppliers came out and gave us the formulas for the cedar chests. Only when we got into the table and bedroom and dining room business did other manufacturers get a little bit more reserved but I don’t think I was ever turned down for a plant visit. Nor did we ever turn anybody else down except after Bob Spilman did it to us; we closed it to the Bassetts.
INTERVIEWER: Tell us about the first Market you attended?
LANE: I was still a midshipman in 1948 when I attended the first Market school. My brother, Landon, and Hamp, with Dad’s approval I’m sure, had affiliated the Lane Company with the Miss America Program. We ran a series of special cedar chests that were an upscale design called the “Miss America Special.” I remember going to the Lane space on the sixth floor of the Furniture Mart at 666 Lake Shore Drive and meeting Miss America, Miss BeBe. We had a little play on names there. I got an autographed picture from BeBe.
After I got out of the Air Force, my first couple of years of responsibility didn’t dictate my attendance at Furniture Market, so when I joined Johnny Justice, the assistant merchandising and sales manager, we went in the old Lake Shore Drive building to show our bedroom suites from the Bald Knob factory.
I helped Johnny set up the showrooms. We would go to the Chicago Market and set up, and then the New York Market and set up, the Dallas Market and set up, the San Francisco Market and set up. By then it was just getting to be routine. They didn’t have heat in the building in January and no air conditioning in the summer.
INTERVIEWER: What can you tell us about changes in Markets since then?
LANE: I guess you all have got your own history of the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association and now the Furniture Factory Marketing Association of the South (FFMAS), which Hamp, Henry Foscue and others sort of put together. They stole the Market from Chicago. My father was very close to the Chicago show and he didn’t want to see it moved. Hamp and Henry were working to get it to High Point. I remember having to bribe the dock workers at the furniture building to get our trucks, and the larger trucks, from Grand Rapids (Michigan) to the docks. It got to be so destructive. High Point was so beautiful in the spring and fall that I guess we all wanted to come to High Point. I wasn’t acquainted with the western end until we bought Hickory Chair. Then my first assignment was Hickory Chair.
My first Market with Hickory Chair in October of 1967 was a learning experience for me. I forget the dealer’s name but he was from Ohio. We had a lunchroom upstairs at Hickory Chair. He hadn’t quite joined us yet; he was still with Bucky Shuford. A month or two later, he did join us. We would go up there to try to have lunch with a customer. I remember being introduced to this customer from Ohio and he took me aside and said, “Mr. Lane, all these other companies that are taking over these furniture companies have them so messed up. I sure hope you don’t do that to Hickory Chair because this is such a nice little company.”
That really stuck with me. That was Hamp’s philosophy that I referred to earlier about how we got Action (Industries). We left people alone; we gave them stockholding; we put their founder or division head on our board of directors. We really did leave them alone.
I always felt that in the case of Action – our unlimited capital to them, the use of the Lane name – they never really showed much appreciation for it. In fact there is suspicion going around today that the whole advertising and marketing program of Furniture Brands, which is under the direction of the junior founding partner of Action, is aimed at exploiting the Lane name.
Last weekend, for example, I saw the very impressive ads they are running on the Hemingway Collection for Thomasville on television and I’ve seen a number of those ads. I’m not sure that’s a bad idea from a marketing standpoint but they are putting the Thomasville name first. They have Thomasville stores in Scottsdale and other major cities and I can’t argue with the marketing philosophy behind it, but I do think it’s a pity if they subvert the Lane name.
As a matter of fact, every ad that I pick up in Phoenix or San Diego or wherever I spend my time, the Action chair appears there but it’s a Lane chair. I will say that they are keeping the Lane name out there on the Action chair but I never see Lane on a recliner. I never see Lane on a cedar chest. I never see a cedar chest ad. I never see a Lane table ad. St. Louis may control that. I would suggest that it may be shortsighted to let the Lane name only be associated with the recliner.
INTERVIEWER: You lose control by co-op advertising and they do what they are told to do.
LANE: We were big on co-ops. We really got into that. We were the first people to run national ads on occasional tables. We evolved from that to co-op ads that coordinated with the magazine newsstands with the color pages. We were big in the co-op.
INTERVIEWER: You covered the growth of your company well, but how was the growth affected by three factors: labor, style and design, and advertising?
LANE: They are all very important factors. First of all, the Lane Company was on the fringe of the furniture block that began in Henry County and Galax, that ran along the North Carolina line, and Virginia and on down into Lexington and western North Carolina. We developed along a different cultural line and different way of thinking.
My father had the good fortune to be elected to the Business Advisory Council of the Federal Department of Commerce in those days. The Business Advisory Council is now called the Business Council. He was able to rub up against the likes of “Engine Charlie” Wilson of General Motors, “Electric Charlie” Wilson of General Electric and so on. In his early days of traveling and trying to promote the cedar chests himself, when he was virtually the sales manager, he was always looking for a way to get the Lane name out there.
If he rode up to the Pennsylvania Railroad, he would see billboards alongside the railroad. He went to Philadelphia once to one of the leading agencies of that day. He talked to them about a billboard program to put the Lane name out there. By that time his father had allowed him to use the Lane name.
When my grandfather incorporated it, he only used the standard Red Cedar Chest name because he was afraid the Lane Company would fail and taint his name. Of course, he went into litigation and the Lane Company saved him.
Beginning in about 1922, they decided to do three things: one – they put the Lane name on the product; two – through a disastrous fire, they rebuilt the state-of-the-art plant in six months; and three – they decided to start a program of research and development and a program of national advertising.
Through the research and development program, they determined that cedar oil did kill moths by giving them a bad case of pneumonia so they could advertise the benefits to the customer with integrity by knowing that in fact the product did kill moths. Secondly, they decided to put the Lane name on it and this advertising company in Philadelphia advised them to go into magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post rather than on billboards. So they did. This was in the ’20s. They did start a program of national advertising in the ’20s with the Lane cedar chest and the Lane hope chest, which came later. The “hope” was put forward rather than the technical benefit of killing moths, which they had learned through their research.
My father always said, “Son, the only thing that always rings the cash register is the heart-string appeal.” So they began to sell hope, romance, and heart-string appeal based on the pilgrim and other traditional ideas of the hope chest.
When I watch the television commercials today, and I don’t care what they are selling, it all has this touchy, feely, heart-string stuff with little kids and things that really appeal to the merchant. Everybody is selling computer systems; everybody is doing the heart-string thing. Dad really got on to something then. That was the beginning of the Lane name.
By World War II, they were running two-page spreads in magazines in color. Also to support our military servicemen, they installed a service for them whereby they could refer to that ad, write in, and we would see that their girlfriend got a cedar chest and the payment was arranged and so forth.
Coming out of World War II, Lane really didn’t have a marketing problem. Lane had a production problem. Until 1949, Lane chests were on allocation. Whether it was nylon stockings or other things, the dealers would try to get an increase in Lane chests allocations. In 1949, as historians and economists know, the world turned. The whole economy switched from a wartime demand to a buyer’s market. That’s when Lane started thinking about diversifying and getting into another product.
We saw that people in the table business were selling a lot of tables, but it was not on a brand-name basis. There was not any credible advertising being done, no branded merchandise, and what was being done was on a cut-price promotional basis. When we decided on this table product (which is another story) we thought that the way to move that forward was to start running color ads in Lift, Look and later People when that came along, magazines of that sort.
We used the Lane name to build up the Lane table business, and then the Lane bedroom and dining room business, and finally the Action chairs. Those are the marketing evolutions.
I could give you stories about how Lane decided to go into the table business. That came out of my father’s relationship with “Electric Charlie” Wilson. He started out to make cabinets for Charlie Wilson, but the Korean War shut off the titanium or selenium or some mineral that came from China, so the contract with General Electric Television only lasted two months. They gave us an order to keep our workforce going until we could get our new table line into production. That was a transition that showed integrity of the chief executives of that day. They would take production from their own plants to keep their supplier going until he could switch to a different product line.
INTERVIEWER: Who was responsible for the fact that you never saw any picture of a Lane product without people in the picture?
LANE: It was always girls; it was that romance. Boy and girl. I don’t know precisely. I know that the best program we ever had was the Miniature Girl Graduate program. J. Arthur Krauss was the father of that program. He was the top marketing man at Lane for many years.
Hampton “Hamp” Powell was in sales in the 1940s. The vice president of Lane was Laurence Loftin, who was a brilliant financial and manufacturing man; he died of a heart attack in 1943. After the funeral that day, my father took Hamp aside – he’d had his eye on him for a while – and asked him to take the vice presidency of Lane; there was only one vice president.
The emphasis switched and my father became very concentrated on manufacturing and was later joined by my older brother Ed. Hamp remained very focused on sales. Really, Hamp dominated the sales end of the business until his retirement. A lot of the credit for the strengthening and building of the Lane name goes to Hamp, as well as my father’s willingness to lay out the money necessary to initiate the Lane marketing program in the 1920s. Hamp always said that other furniture people didn’t have the guts to spend the money and the patience it took to build a brand name.
INTERVIEWER: He was right. What about labor? How has it affected growth of your company?
LANE: Absolutely affected it.
INTERVIEWER: Bonus based on profit was certainly a big factor in it.
LANE: That was a major factor in attracting good people. My grandfather’s railroad, the Virginia railroad, opened up this section to people. There was a lot of good labor in the area that was underutilized so my father didn’t have a lot of trouble staffing the plant. During the Depression, it was the only business that remained open in our district. The cotton mill, which his father had built about the same time that Lane was built, went broke. Spencer Love bought it; it was his first plant outside of North Carolina. The cotton mill was down; Lane was operating three days a week so we pretty much had a pick of the labor.
World War II came along and a lot of folks went to the shipyards down at Norfolk so labor was very tight. We filled that gap by working women. Until then women were not accepted in the furniture factory. We also filled in some of the male gap by employing blacks, which until then were only allowed to be service labor. They would push the conveyor pallets. Other plants used carts but we were laid out as a conveyor line plant so the service labor was by the blacks. Gradually the blacks were moved to the machines and labor was a major issue during the 1960s and the Vietnam War era in the 1970s.
We brought in what we called a personnel man, an industrial relations man from the oil industry. We got him through a consultant that we had who serviced the oil industry. He and I put together a government program called JOBS, Job Opportunity Business Sector. The government would subsidize the training of labor to get them off the unemployment roll. We began training our labor in formal classroom situations, following up on their work habits to develop their reliability.
As you pointed out earlier, we had one other thing that would help in the motivational area: the bonuses we paid. During the recession of 1937, my father was looking for a way to further retain and motivate his employees and he declared the $5 bonus at Christmas to each employee. He announced that through the succeeding year, if the profits were made, that he would share as thoroughly as he knew how. That bonus system continued to the time that I retired in 1987. First my father would speak to the employees and tell them how business was going, thank them for what they’d done and tell them how they needed to improve. Then Hamp would speak to them along the same lines. Later they handed that responsibility over to me and for many years I made those talks. Stuart Moore never enjoyed speaking to crowds; he was more of a backroom fellow. I did that for the years that I was there and after I left, my son did it.
Then we moved beyond that to employee bonuses, which amounted to anywhere from two to eight weeks extra pay coming to the employees at Christmastime as a lump sum. Some of them – many of them – had never seen that amount of money in their life at one time. It paid for a lot of mortgages, it paid for a lot of children’s education, and it was a great thing for the employees. To motivate and pay the right amount at the level we had to have to attract them and keep them, we also gave them a specific personal percentage of the profit of their product line. For example, if my salary at a point was $75,000 a year – and that was late – my bonus could be $100,000. The whole thing was tilted toward profit. Every employee was thinking profit; that was the concept and has always been the case.
The sad thing today is there’s no profit to share. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a profit-sharing bonus. I haven’t seen a press release; we used to have a big press release on it; I haven’t seen a press release in years for profit-sharing bonuses at Lane. They do have a labor retention problem here.
Meanwhile another family that was brought in through the railroad building, the English family, began to develop the town in order to allow them to sell real estate and building materials. That was their livelihood. They were so farsighted they knew that in order to keep this up, they had to build up the industry of the town. Red English became the president of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. He was also the first chairman of the Virginia Poet Society. He developed very good contacts in Richmond and developed new industries coming into town.
That began the diversification beyond Spencer Love’s textile plant and grew the economy of Altavista.
Today we always ask how large Altavista is. We say 4,000. It hasn’t changed in years. But there are 9,000 industrial jobs and we have a dozen different industries in town, many of which pay very high wages, such as Pension Bearing and Ross Abbott Pharmaceuticals. The negative side of that for Lane is that they drained all of the really top labor. Lane has had increasing problems of attracting and retaining the best labor. That has been a serious challenge and I’m sure that is one reason for some of the management decisions Lane makes. There’s still enough labor in Altavista to operate but it’s not like it was in the earlier days.
INTERVIEWER: There’s one other factor, and that’s a breaking point – style and design.
LANE: In the early days the cedar chest style was simple. We looked at the best selling suites in the industry and we just copied them and put a cedar chest at the foot of the bed. When we got into the 1950s, the first step up was the Girl Graduate special. Then styling became more sophisticated and we began to reach out for better designers, outside designers, contract designers. As the industry has matured, styling has become critical. Without good styling, you’re dead. You don’t even get an order.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned Bill Tomlinson with the Sophisticate group, which I think was a real landmark in terms of the industry going into design.
LANE: Until then, everyone knew we made cheap furniture down here but they didn’t know we made well-styled furniture.
Style is critical and probably more important than anything else. You’ve got to have a reasonable degree of quality and it’s got to be a decent value, but there’s so much good furniture available today that the buying decision turns on styling.
INTERVIEWER: What has been your furniture industry involvement as opposed to your own personal and company involvement? What jobs have you held in furniture companies?
LANE: I’ve never worked for any furniture company but the Lane Company. My early association was with the production and cost division of the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association. I was a four-term president of that.
INTERVIEWER: At meetings they didn’t like to see you stand up because they knew you wouldn’t ask an easy question.
LANE: I always asked a lot of questions but my wife is a lot better at it than I am. I call her the Barbara Walters of Altavista.
INTERVIEWER: Industry-wise, what can you tell us about changes in production?
LANE: There are more conveyor lines than there used to be. Since the 1920s Lane has had production lines. As far as I know they still have the same original cedar chest conveyor. But more furniture making has moved to production lines, moved away from bench work.
Morris Futorian was given the credit for what’s called “broken-down upholstery manufacturing”. Before Morris it was pretty much done on the bench. Furniture has moved to the assembly, sub-assembly plan of operation. Futorian was the first man to move it to conveyor lines to sub-assemble and assemble furniture.
I really haven’t been in an upholstery plant other than the Action division that operated on an assembly line basis. We always tried to move everything onto a conveyor, as many work jobs as could be done. In our Rocky Mount plant we managed to get most of the drawer fitting and things with casework on the conveyor. If we ran into problems, we might have to pull it off the conveyor and do some off-conveyor work. But the idea was to keep it all on a moving conveyor and put it in the finishing room on the moving conveyor. Furniture went all the way through rubbing, packing and into the warehouse on a conveyor. As far as my experience is concerned, if it wasn’t on the conveyor when we got started, by the time we got finished, it was on the conveyor.
INTERVIEWER: What about purchasing?
LANE: I was not directly involved in purchasing, although at one time it did report to me. We did manage to get inventory on a “just-in-time” system. We didn’t have personal computers when I left. It was still on central BTUs. We did have the first IBM 360 computer in the furniture industry. It’s progressed to individual computers and networks. When I left, we were just instituting the integral system of furniture design, which sought to completely integrate the transportation of parts, building materials, parts explosion drawing, purchasing requirements and costing all being generated through the computer. As I said, I do not know where that stands now at Lane.
When I first started, purchasing primarily involved buying bulk items. They bought glue, finishing material and top coats in tank truckloads; undercoats in barrels. They were responsible for not only purchasing, but also receiving, warehousing and dispensing those materials. As production became more complex, they began to purchase things besides hardware; trim hardware is a purchase item. There would be some things like drawer guides and internal items that were not necessarily exposed to decorative things like hardware was. The material purchase requirements did expand.
The first item that Lane ever bought in large quantities other than those that I mentioned was what we called a brass leg. That was one of the two or three design items that really increased the table sales of Lane – 100 to 200 percent. At one time all of the Lane tables were essentially wood.
Mr. Kline, who came in from what later became Western tables, was a buyer of occasional furniture for Walker Brothers in Los Angeles. The West Coast people were getting into other materials for tables like metal legs, glass. He came in with the idea of a shaped-edge top, which is very much like a cedar chest front, and attached four brass legs to it and styled around that. That was his first really big winner. You might say it took us off to the races. We were buying those legs from a company in Minnesota and they were plating glass on steel.
Our purchasing manager spent a great deal of his time working with that supplier, checking quality. The trouble was, when they got to Florida, Houston, Texas, places like that, the salt air caused it to pit. We were getting brass plates back by the thousands and we had to set up a production line to deal with the returns and with sending out the replacements. To correct that problem, we went to anodized aluminum. We replaced those legs eventually – every one of them – probably several times. When we got into the anodized, the problem simply stopped.
That was a good thing in the long run. It established that Lane would stand behind the product despite how difficult and costly the replacement was. That helped establish a quality reputation in the table business.
The case goods business had some other special items – glass involved for breakfronts, shelves, mirrors. That expanded the purchasing requirements quite a number of times from decorative hardware. We saw that develop and eventually that went on the computer.
There was some bidding. For example, there was a notorious trial for a carton supplier for price fixing. We were very careful to have bids that would have integrity, and to operate on major items and large quantities only on a bid basis. One of the designs that we had involved something that looked like a T-joint. In order to develop that, we were working with an Italian manufacturer; he was supplying parts for us. In order to join them together we had to produce an ABS, Acrylo-Butadiene-Styrene. We had four suppliers operating full time around the clock producing those corners that join the rails — the pipe rails — to the pipe legs. That and the brass legs were the biggest purchasing deals we ever were involved in.
In this case, the plastics industry was merging or melding with the glass industry and the wood finishing. That was quite a learning experience. I don’t know that it’s changed that much from that time, but that’s a long way from ordering cedar chest trim hardware.
INTERVIEWER: What were the changes in sales and merchandising?
LANE: The sale of cedar chests is a unique challenge. We quickly determined that our principal market for cedar chests were girls who were graduating from high school in those days at about age 15 or 17, and generally were married within a year to 18 months. Mr. J. Arthur Krauss came up with the idea of a miniature program where we manufactured a miniature cedar chest and sold it to the dealer at cost and branded his name in the lid of the chest. From his sources or from our sources (the principals of the schools were cooperative), we obtained the girls’ names that were in the graduating class. We sent to that girl a hand-addressed invitation to come to that dealer’s store and receive her graduation gift. That got her into a furniture store probably for the first time in her life. When she received that miniature, she then had in her possession an item that had that furniture dealer’s name burned in the lid. That was a keepsake item that we kept making for years. I still run across ladies that got those in high school. They remember Lane and they remember that dealer.
That was a very labor-intensive program, but it probably did as much or more than the national advertising program to spread the Lane name and gain goodwill for us. Then as I mentioned earlier, we augmented that program, which was very personalized, through advertising in magazines, cooperative advertising in newspapers, and in more modern media. We never were very successful with television. We tried producing spot ads and including dealer ads and assisting them through cooperative advertising. To my knowledge, Lane never made much of an impact. It’s very expensive to advertise on television and we tried that, but other than national ads and cooperative advertisements, the sales techniques did not change all that much.
The biggest challenge we had was moving from this highly-trained and specialized cedar chest sales force that had absorbed the methodology and mentality of selling this niche market to a more commodity item in occasional tables, bedrooms, dining rooms. Lane salesmen under the Lane brand were never really trained through a major effort in upholstery sales. I understand that the Laneventure division has been very successful in that. I’m not sure how that’s marketed. We always were progressive but we never developed, to my knowledge, anything unique in furniture marketing beyond the national advertising program and the Girl Graduate program. What we did beyond that was pretty much what everybody else did.
INTERVIEWER: What about changes in finance?
LANE: There’s where Lane excelled. Starting from the $500 purchase from my grandfather with no working capital, my father operated on borrowed money. He built up his inventory of cedar chests in the spring; he sold off his inventory in the fall and Christmas. He paid back his loans and started all over again.
In 1928, some of the New York banks for reasons of their own began to question him and he decided that he didn’t want any more to do with banks. So he and Mr. Loftin went on a cost-cutting stringency program and liquidated all loans before October 1929. As a result, Lane went through the Depression on a solid financial basis; some of our competitors faulted.
We were also able to continue with the national advertising program; we were able to provide our salesmen with travel money where many other reps were off the road. Lane emerged from the Depression number one in the cedar chest business and beginning to be a credible supplier of furniture. By the time we came out of World War II, Lane had a few million dollars in the bank. We were able to, floor plan our dealers due to the dating program that my father began during the Depression. They would sell to a dealer in the spring and summer and the dealer didn’t have to pay until December or January after he’d sold all of the inventory. We were the dealer’s “bank.” That gave Lane a tremendous edge. We carried that technique over into the table business. We were able to floor plan the dealer and allow him to pay us back after he sold the merchandise.
INTERVIEWER: Were you the first to do that in the furniture business?
LANE: I’m not aware of anyone else that had a dating program. That was almost the heart of our sales force, not only for cedar chests but also for occasional tables and bedroom and dining rooms. I’m not sure that we ever got into it in upholstery because the rate of upholstery that we were selling was more custom order and it didn’t fit that technique.
INTERVIEWER: What about changes in management?
LANE: That was an ongoing process. My grandfather was the original manager and he left the day-to-day operation to my father, his second wife and his widow. He never completely was comfortable with my father after he ran him off twice. So Dad had to satisfy his siblings and his stepmother’s family. He had to run the company. He found out very soon that he had to have a good man in manufacturing who could keep the operation going while he was on the road selling. He knew that to move the business ahead, he had to have a professional sales manager and sales force. That’s about the time he employed Mr. Krauss, who took over the sales.
The Lane sales force was highly trained in a very specialized niche. This was good enough through World War II and up until 1949. Then we went off allocation and we had to go back to hard selling. That was the point at which we moved into the occasional table business and later the bedroom and dining room business. That was a challenge because the salesmen wanted a piece of the action in tables and case goods because the commission was bigger, and they didn’t have to work as hard as they did when selling cedar chests. We gradually, and to some degree knowingly, slid into the combining of the products under one sales force, which was inevitably to the detriment of the cedar chest business, and I think that may have something to do with where it is today.
The economy, the culture was changing; the girls were going on to college, not getting married right out of high school. They were not going around “hoping” anymore. The concept of the Girl Graduate plan and the sales approach of Lane were no longer necessarily favored by the culture. Lane had to adjust to that and as we moved into upholstery, we had to train the salesmen to sell upholstery as well as wood furniture. I’m not sure that problem has ever been completely solved.
INTERVIEWER: As far as I know, Drexel was the only other one that did management training like you did.
LANE: As Johnny Justice told us, he was a graduate of the “Drexel College of Furniture Knowledge”. For me, it began when I started in the lumberyard and worked my way through the plant up to the table finishing department, not knowing anything about the furniture business or the technology of it.
The furniture course had just started at North Carolina State University. I went to my wife’s cousin, Eddie Bassett, who was very nice, and he supplied me with some of the textbooks from which he studied.
Building on that structure, we began to encourage the young men we hired out of liberal arts colleges or other curricula to study what they could about furniture. We gave them a progressive plan through the manufacturing operation through the various administrative departments, industrial engineering and cost accounting; as they went through the process we would notice their progress. They had to report back every week to a mentor. Some of the reports were written; some of them were verbal.
We sized these young men up and gave them the opportunity to progress towards a particular area of the business. A lot of them did show an aptitude for cost accounting, some showed an aptitude for production, some showed an aptitude for sales. They were, as Hamp would say, “hungry”. If they were hungry enough, they went into sales. Some of them progressed to not only be good salesmen, but to be regional sales managers, and because they had come through the production process, they had an intimate knowledge of all the processes of the factory.
We did always have a few boys back in the training process. When we bought a new business, they knew our systems and we moved them immediately into that business. They would keep very close tabs on and work with the accounting manager at the new business. I don’t know of anybody else who did it. Maybe Drexel had a little more formal approach than we did.
INTERVIEWER: You also wanted to mention retail.
LANE: The method in the table business and the bedroom and dining room business was narrowly targeted distribution of furniture. The upholstery business began to change to the 800 numbers and drop-shipment methods that were emerging. Today dealers are buying in containers, and offshore resources are competing with U.S. manufacturers.
I see that the symbiotic relationship between the dealer and the manufacturer has changed and is not active in day-to-day business. I’m not quite sure what the effect of that will be on present day sales practices. We were working on hooking the dealer into the Lane computer system to have instant feedback from retail sales to Lane. I don’t know where that program stands at the moment, but I suspect that if it isn’t already well progressed in the industry, it will be shortly if the marketing manufacturers survive. About the only advantage I see the American manufacturer has is his proximity to the retail floor, and if he doesn’t learn how to exploit that, then I think he’s history.
INTERVIEWER: Describe the support you personally have received from people in our industry and the support your company has received.
LANE: In my earliest exposure to the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association, people like Jack Lashell were a great help to me by teaching me a lot about the industry. Otherwise, my father coached me very carefully and closely. Hampton Powell gave me as much or more attention as my father did. I had the privilege of working with true geniuses in merchandising and design like Burt Klein. Of course I worked alongside people like Ray Ramey and Johnny Justice in the merchandising and design, and later Tom Tursel after he came in from Canada. He knew the industry from one end to the other and he was a great stylist as well as a great merchandiser.
I learned more from the people at the Lane Company than anywhere else. I did make enough calls in the early days with case goods and later on as the president and chairman of the company to get to know the dealers; at the Market we would get advice from them. We followed the example of Tom A. Finch at Thomasville when we began to install, institute and design review sessions in which we brought in selected dealers from all over the United States representing the spectrum of mass volume to custom stores from Boston to San Diego. We more or less sat at their feet to find out if they would try what we needed to do in reviewing the designs and what we needed to do to make the whole program produce more sales. I sat in on all of those and had the opportunity to learn from those dealers. That was one of the more useful experiences to me in learning the industry.
INTERVIEWER: What about support your companies received from other companies or other people outside?
LANE: In the earliest days before we became a significant factor in the wood furniture industry, we were aided by every other manufacturer. Their factories were open to people from the Lane Company; the Lane factory was open to our competitors.
There was an interesting program that grew out of the market plan and the rebuilding of the industry in post World War II. We opened our factories up to the Germans and to others and brought them over. Some of the sons are now into the fourth generation of personal and family relationships with those people. We then had entree to the top factories in Italy, Germany and so forth. That was major support.
The openness that we had in this great big family of furniture manufacturers in the early days was a great benefit to all of us because we didn’t have a reservoir of labor that was already trained; most of our fellows were untrained. A lot of them farmed on the weekends and worked with the Lane Company during the week.
I would say we learned a lot from our competitors. Hamp always loved to “pick the brains” of competitors or customers.
INTERVIEWER: What have you done for other people?
LANE: The things I mentioned about sharing our know-how, opening our factory not only to U.S. competitors but to overseas manufacturers has had a useful effect on the industry.
Our participation in the activities of the American Furniture Manufacturers Association, of which Hamp was president, has been important. Under the previous organizational structure, which our people always participated in, the finance division evolved. The treasurer of the Lane Company, Mr. Louis Short, was also a founder of the Minnie & Bernard B. Lane Foundation. He is presently very active in assisting in some charitable efforts; he is credited with the founding of the Furniture Manufacturers Credit Association where he worked to provide an interchange of information that facilitated the sales efforts and minimized credit losses from the manufacturers’ sales efforts throughout the industry. That certainly enhanced the process of many of our fellow manufacturers who sold to people who always had tight financial resources. There was always a risk in whom you sold to and when you sold to them. You needed the best information you could get. That’s probably one of the greatest contributions that Lane made in the industry – bringing together the total information resources of the credit managers of the industry.
INTERVIEWER: Describe your business strategies.
LANE: Early on I asked my father to send me to all the business school places with courses on five year strategic planning. He then quoted an English friend of ours who said that the best place to learn a business is in the business. So I never got to go to Harvard. I did attend one seminar. My father, together with Hamp Powell, was the strategic planner of the company. He was tossed back and forth. The family had input; certainly my brother Ed had input before he left. I don’t know that there was a written formal plan for strategy. But the idea of moving into other product lines, the idea of going beyond wood furniture into upholstery, that was a strategy that began with Hamp’s succession to the vice-presidency in 1943, and continued until the time the company was bought out.
INTERVIEWER: I think you brought out a lot of strategy in your narrative about the negotiation with Interco. You were making plans not to get into that situation.
LANE: They had a position of 5 percent in the company when they made their formal offer. I think if the board members who opposed this concept had not obstructed the repurchase of a particular block of stock that I knew was out there – that I was trying to obtain, perhaps Interco would not have gotten the foothold. It would not have allowed them to take over the company. I think those individuals that opposed my efforts will have to go to their graves wondering, “Was that a good thing or not?”
INTERVIEWER: What about your management techniques? You’ve said a good deal about that.
LANE: My father always believed and taught me that the people in the plant knew more about their jobs than anyone else, and Hamp practiced this in his part of the business. He always preached that if you want to know what the problems are in the plant, go talk to the people. After you talk to three, four, five, you’ll get an idea of it. If you talk to some more, you’ll get a better idea of it. Our information system was really bottom up. We just put all that together and tried to think of where to go from there.
Later, as I described the dealer design review meeting, we recognized the inadequacies of our feedback system. About all we had was filtered by the salesmen who had their own agenda and there was a limit to what Stuart Moore and the rest of us could get from the sales figures and from the cold hard data. It was important to keep in touch with the dealer and the men in the plant and the suppliers. That was essentially our method of developing information. As a true reflection of that, it assisted us in developing strategies.
INTERVIEWER: What has been your central personal goal in business? This is a really critical question.
LANE: My personal goal was to be good enough at my job that I would end up as the head of the business, which is what my father wanted. With the help of him and Hampton Powell and other people in the business indirectly, I was able to achieve that. Obviously I wasn’t perfect at it.
INTERVIEWER: How well have you achieved it?
LANE: I did reach the chairmanship and I was chief executive. Financially, I was well rewarded. I never pushed for any raises. I tried to keep my compensation down because I had enough income from the stock that I owned that I didn’t need to press for a larger salary or benefits. I never took a stock option. I was treated fairly, and at the end of my career, I was able to convert, that which I’d been able to save and enhance, to charitable purposes, to live comfortably and do the things that my wife and I wanted to do in the 12 years since my retirement.
INTERVIEWER: What has been your company’s goal in business?
LANE: The Lane Company always sought to be number one in the industry in whatever niche we were in. Or, if it were more appropriate, we strove to be number two because sometimes it’s more profitable to be number two than number one. We achieved that position.
In the cedar chest business, we were the sole survivors in the entire industry. We achieved that position in the occasional table business, and within five years we were the number two factor in the business. We failed to purchase La-Z¬-Boy Furniture, but Action has become number two in the chair industry. I understand that Laneventure is the second most profitable part of the Lane Company – of the total Furniture Brands Inc. structure. The most profitable part is one of the divisions we took over that had a very mediocre profit. Now it is the most profitable part of FBI. I think we achieved those goals collectively; no one did it individually.
INTERVIEWER: Your company goal, whether you stated it that way or not, was to be highly profitable. You were probably the most profitable company in the business.
LANE: At the time we were. No question. Later, we were victims of our own success. We achieved the respect of Wall Street, we achieved the respect of our competitors, and we achieved the envy of people outside the industry who saw their own industries dying. While they were serving their stockholders, FBI sought to acquire the best companies in an industry who had a few more years to survive. We were acquired after Ethan Allen and Broyhill were acquired. All those acquisitions were friendly with the management. As for the acquisition with Lane – we resisted as long as possible.
INTERVIEWER: What was the overriding business philosophy of your company?
LANE: The overriding business philosophy of our company is best stated by my father’s expression that “success is a constant sense of discontent broken by brief periods of satisfaction upon the accomplishment of some task particularly well done.” A rephrasing of that might be that there is one best way to do anything; whether it was a manufactured cedar chest or another product, we strove always to find the one best way to make it and the one best way to market it.
INTERVIEWER: That’s good. What has been the overriding business philosophy for you?
LANE: My one overriding business philosophy would be hard to separate from my personal philosophy and reason for being. It comes from my mother and my father, and I think her influence on my father was overriding. It was to conduct oneself and one’s business in a manner so as not to compromise one’s integrity. My mother loved the Psalm – I think it’s the 24th – that speaks of integrity. After several years in the business and working closely with my father, Stuart Moore said that he thought the one word that best described my father was integrity. We had to do a lot of things to succeed, but we tried never to sacrifice our integrity.
I remember one difficulty where we had one product under development that was very painful for me. Stuart and I had to really get our heads together, though it doesn’t sound like much now. First of all, in the product, we had moved into a fourth division of the company, following cedar chests, tables, bedrooms and dining rooms, and we developed the next capability for a fourth division – novelties. We had a division named for it in the company. We started making storage cabinets – library units. We looked at the other items similar to that on the market. We realized that a lot of people were making bar units and it fit our production line very well.
My mother was raised in a very conservative Christian family. She had members of her family who had alcohol problems and my father had members of his family who had serious alcohol problems. I have members of my own family, in both my generation and my children’s generation that have severe alcohol problems. We never wanted to make bar units or anything like that. But to fill up the factory that we built (plant 4). Hamp felt we needed to get into bar units; I couldn’t agree with him. I sat in the executive committee meeting in which we could not get a consensus to make that product. He just stepped forward and said, “I’m making the decision. We’re going to make them.”
I had to consider, “Do I leave the company or do I go along and do the best possible production job of the bar units?” That’s what we did. I fretted over it. I talked to my minister, I talked to my wife and I stayed with the company; I don’t know if you could criticize that. But Lane made very good bar units. We called them refreshment centers. It sounded much better.
The other little thing, which was just a short-term thing but it’s illustrative of how you’re confronted with things, was a spring Market that opened on the Thursday following Easter. We started our sales meetings on Monday. Because of the way that this Market sold and the time that we had to present the lines that we were introducing, it was decided that we should open on Sunday. Mr. Moore was in charge of sales at the time. I said, “High Point Market is dominated by good Southern Christian manufacturers, and we respect our Jewish brothers by not having furniture events on their holy days. I don’t think it speaks very well to have a sales meeting at the same time as Easter Sunday morning services”. So we compromised and we opened the sales meeting at 1:00 p.m. on Easter Sunday. Sometimes you confront something and you have to come to a resolution.
INTERVIEWER: Describe your relationships with your suppliers.
LANE: I was not directly on the line in dealing with suppliers. That was under purchasing and purchasing reported to me. We tried always to be straightforward. We put our cartons out for bids. We tried to respect the bidding process. We did not hedge as far as I know or renegotiate once the bid was in. It never became a problem but I never dug into the details, so there might be somebody living who knows something different.
Our intention was to respect our suppliers. We went for the best price considering the quality and service we were looking for. We valued long-term relationships but only as long as they were competitive. My wife did once go to my father and challenge him on a decision he had made to cut off a supplier who also sold a competitor. We were in a lawsuit with that competitor and it happened to be family. This supplier also happened to be an individual that introduced my wife and me, and his business was being hurt. My father’s decision had been to cut off this supplier because he operated in the community and did business with Bassett Industries and we were in a lawsuit with them. My father reversed on that and he restored the relationship with our supplier.
INTERVIEWER: Good for him. What about relationships with your customers?
LANE: We like to think that we had good relationships with them.
I will admit that during the war years when they were desperate for cedar chests, we probably became arrogant, but we also adhered to our policy very firmly. We did not do a lot of the things that other people in the industry did, so we got the reputation for being sort of self-righteous, high and mighty. We didn’t listen as well as we might have. By the mid 1960s, we decided it was time to change our ways. That’s when my brother came back to the company as a director. Ed Lane, Jr. was put in charge of our customer service program. We began to think in a customer-friendly way instead of about what was always best for the Lane Company. We did come a long way with it. We had a very close relationship, for example, with Bloomingdale’s. We actually developed several groups of furniture with their close involvement. Theirs were some of the most successful groups we ever developed. It ranged all the way from impersonal relationships to the actual development of specific groups of merchandise.
We had to respect their distribution pattern wherever they were. Yet we had to keep in mind, government requirements with fair trade competition. That was a very tight rope to walk.
INTERVIEWER: What were your greatest problems with suppliers or customers?
LANE: The biggest problem with suppliers is getting what you ordered on time, when you needed it, and with the quality that you expected. Sometimes that was a matter of keeping the production line going and if the supplier missed a shipment by a few hours, you shut the plant down and sent people home.
As far as the customers are concerned, charge backs from department stores were and continue to be one of the most difficult issues to deal with. Honoring distribution commitments was destined to configure very, very challenging situations. If you went too far in one direction, you were in violation of the Federal Fair Trade (or Trading) Act. If you went too far in the other direction, every gas station had your catalog.
INTERVIEWER: Describe your involvement in the industry trade associations.
LANE: That was Hamp’s job altogether and I think his accomplishments there and the way in which he was honored by the Hall of Fame and the manufacturers association spoke volumes as to what he meant to the industry.
My father brought to the industry the perspective of the broader scope, from General Motors to the mom-and-pops. I hope and feel that over time, my father’s world views and his relentless procedure of the one best way did benefit the industry as well as the Lane Company.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, the one best way to do anything – that’s very important. What has been the greatest benefit from your association activities to you or the company?
LANE: The knowledge we gained from activities with our competitors for the benefit of the industry, such as the evolution of the High Point International Home Furnishing Center; it was probably the most significant activity resulting from cooperation with competitors that Lane was involved in. Hampton Powell and others were involved in it and are probably still involved in it in the present day.
INTERVIEWER: What other business enterprises or joint ventures have you been part of outside the company and how did they work out?
LANE: That remains to be seen. After Lane was bought, each member of my family sought to develop their own businesses and my wife and I had venture capital for each of our children – that includes our in-laws, my children’s spouses – so they each could start their own business. Mr. Corwin, C.F. Corwin, Jr. remained in the furniture business. My participation in the start of his business involved loans at a moderate interest rate, which he paid on time, and he paid down the principal ahead of time.
When I retired, Ted Corwin, who was then vice president of HTB Lane in Conover, one of the upholstery divisions of the Lane Company, decided to stretch out on his own and he started Designmaster Furniture. This was built around the concept that he and a former design consultant at Action Industries had developed. I was helpful to Ted in bringing customers into his space based on my acquaintance with people that I met as I walked the halls of the furniture building and the streets of High Point; I made them aware of Ted’s product. He introduced them to his product through his associations derived from his days in retail as well as his days in the Lane Company.
Subsequently, my son, B.B. Lane, Jr. who was born on St. Patrick’s Day, anticipated the changes at Lane. He went to business school and got his masters of business at the University of Texas in Austin. While he was there, through a cousin of ours, he met and married a local young lady. He began to look for ways to invest the funds that he received from the Lane buyout and from the sale of some of the Bassett family benefits. Eventually he ended up in the software business, which he’s still pursuing today. We have invested significant resources to assist him in that. At the present time he is working with investment bankers to try to find the next step of financing and corporate involvement.
My son did follow the family pattern in this short period of assisting his brother-in-law.
Hickory’s Designmaster decided to go into the retail business, and acquired and opened a franchise store in Lynchburg, Virginia. Again my wife and I have assisted him modestly in his business venture. He’s operating a guide business (fly fishing) and he needed some private things and land where he could take his clients, so we participated in that.
That’s about all that we’ve been able to do of a family business nature. Each of our children has their own business that they’re doing, most of which they started on their own. We have relied on professional advisors to manage the proceeds from the sale of Lane. We’ve had our good years and the last year or two hasn’t been so good.
INTERVIEWER: The next overall topic is changes in the furniture industry.
LANE: The furniture industry has evolved very rapidly from basically a manufacturing and marketing industry to essentially an assembly and distributing industry. This has been the components or the assembly parts being partially or wholly produced offshore in a more cost-friendly labor market aided by the containerization of ocean freight, the intermodal transportation of ocean freight products, and the ready availability of faxes and other electronic and digital communication devices. I don’t know where that leaves the furniture industry or whether it leaves anything for domestic furniture producers to do in the worldwide markets.
INTERVIEWER: You’re right. What do you see as the most serious problem facing our industry today in the short term and the long term?
LANE: Number one is the competition in production as well as any sales of offshore products. That’s the most serious short-term threat. I don’t know if I can state a long-term threat because I don’t know if our industry has a future in the manufacturing field much beyond 10 years.
INTERVIEWER: What is to prevent any U.S. company, like Baker, for example, from simply buying everything overseas and keeping their company intact doing everything except manufacturing?
LANE: That is the path that most will follow. I understand from some pretty good sources that Lane is buying complete product out of Asia and that they have their own quality inspection service under contract in Asia. They bring it into the Altavista warehouse, load it on a truck with any product they may still be making domestically and ship it to the customers in a Lane carton. Lane is not unique in that regard. Most of the other furniture manufacturers of whom I have any personal knowledge are engaged in either that degree of shipping offshore products or component parts that they are integrating with locally manufactured components. In effect, they are merely becoming warehouses and shippers of furniture product. That performs a service and there is some margin for profit in that service. It certainly reduces the investment one has to make in the operation.
Some just buy skillfully, reading the American markets and developing reliable off-shore resources. They are developing a profitable sales and distribution network where there can be the job type of margin that allows a profit to be made. The thinner you slice the product stages, the thinner the ultimate profit is unless you look at it as return on investment as most business school students are taught today. We never thought of return on investment during the early stages of the industry. We just wanted to know how much profit we were making, whether the stockholders were happy, whether management, staff and labor were happy, and what we had for the next Market that would keep us operating another six months.
INTERVIEWER: That is a different attitude all together. What has been your own greatest contribution to our industry?
LANE: I don’t believe that it could be said that I personally made any great contributions in the industry. As a member of the Lane team I had a part in training people that are now leaders in the industry. I had the privilege of supporting with some degree of success the efforts of industry leaders like Hamp Powell and my father. I was a foot soldier in one respect, not a general.
INTERVIEWER: Well put. Describe your other most important contributions after that one.
LANE: To what?
INTERVIEWER: The industry.
LANE: As important as the industry is and as much as I respect it and supported the efforts of Hampton Powell, my father, and others to promote the industry, I have learned in the last twelve years that there is life beyond this industry. I’ve tried to look at the broader picture of what I was put here for and what I’ve done to contribute here on earth. Those were personal goals that I have really spent more time thinking about than I have the Lane Company.
INTERVIEWER: How much of your contribution was built on already existing techniques and methods? How much came from innovations which you originated or were put into use before most other companies did?
LANE: It was indicated earlier that my father and his associates at the time, like Laurence Loftin, were some of the higher skilled technical/mechanical people. They built specialized machinery to help accelerate the production of cedar chests and other products, and enhance the production line techniques that Lane instituted in the industry.
In the development of particleboard, Lane was a major contributor. It’s saved many forests and helped restrain the diminishment of our natural resources. Today particleboard and its third-generation successor, strand board and others have enabled the building industry and the furniture industry to continue to make wood-based products from renewable resources that assist the environment rather than degrading the environment. From that standpoint, I think that Lane had a great deal to contribute to the industry and to our society as a whole.
The atmosphere of innovation that existed at the Lane Company carried over not only to the manufacturing side, but also to the marketing and to the community relations sides. As an example, in 1947 in addition to the profit-sharing bonus that the company was paying, my father established the Lane Foundation to make interest-free loans to the children of the employees to attend college. Many children of employees of the Lane Company have received educations at state institutions and other institutions interest-free as a result of the loan program of the Lane Foundation.
Carrying that beyond into his own personal life and thereby influencing me, the establishment of the Edward H. Lane Foundation and later the Bernard B. and Minnie Bassett Lane Foundation has augmented the charitable outreach of the Lane family, filling gaps where the policies and laws would make it inappropriate for the Lane Foundation to go. We have been able to assist many activities in the area, the greatest of which is the establishment of the area YMCA, which was conceived here in this house and was initially funded by my wife, our private foundation and later joined in assistance by the Lane Foundation. Funds were appropriated annually by option of the granters.
The company’s outreach and contribution to improvement was tremendous. The capital that was generated through the success of the Lane Company is the financial underpinning of the Bernard Lane Foundation and the Edward H. Lane Foundation. They provided the funds for the construction of the Lane Stadium at Virginia Tech. It provided scholarships to colleges and universities in this country and throughout the world. I think the success enjoyed by the innovation and the aggressive policies and philosophy that E.H. Lane passed on through his management and through his family will continue through many generations to make the world a better place.
INTERVIEWER: Would you say that it was unusual for a furniture manufacturer to be floor planning for retailers? That has since become the standard practice for automobile people, but I don’t know of anybody that is doing it today in the furniture business.
LANE: In our era the appliance people may have been doing it, but I don’t know anybody in wood furniture that was doing it. The only reason that we could do it was the conservative, natural policy that my father favored which provided us with the capital to be able to do it. We were able to institute it in 1928 and throughout the Depression; we did not payout all of our earnings through dividends and bonuses through our management. We accumulated the capital that allowed us to make investments such as floor planning and merchandising. That in itself was an engine of growth for the diversification and growth in the company.
INTERVIEWER: It seems to me that that practice would fit this question quite well as a financial innovation. How was your company affected by the Depression?
LANE: We had our pick of the labor because no one else was operating. We were able to operate when others did not have the financial strength to operate.
INTERVIEWER: Your father got the affairs of the company in order before the fall of 1929, which was a crystal ball effort of major proportions.
LANE: The Depression eliminated most of our serious cedar chest competitors, the rest of whom were out of business by the early 1950s. We had the other challenge of what to do to remain energetic and competitive, so we picked the table business to challenge us because there were hundreds of competitors in the table business.
INTERVIEWER: How was the company affected by World War II?
LANE: It was affected in that, on the one hand, the pent up demand of the U.S. population made it easier to sell the product. On the other hand, in responding to the wartime challenges of production, we had to learn how to integrate and do a lot of things outside of making furniture.
INTERVIEWER: Like making parts for aircraft?
LANE: My father, Ed, volunteered as what they called a dollar-a-year man in Washington for three days a week and spent the other two days here looking after the business.
INTERVIEWER: What about racial attitudes?
LANE: We did have to begin to adjust the attitude toward the other races and sexes that weren’t until that time involved in furniture production. Coming out of the war, there was a different approach to that even before legislation and social evolution changed.
INTERVIEWER: Would you agree that essentially the furniture industry was ahead of government force in that particular area? Didn’t we pretty well integrate our business long before we were forced to?
LANE: Yes, we were moving in that direction and we had made some changes in attitudes and job opportunities before it became a serious legislative problem. The approach that the federal government took to measuring progress and job opportunities was the usual heavy-handed bureaucratic approach, which wasn’t always easy to defend against. In the only court challenges that I was ever involved in, the Lane Company prevailed. In one case it was district court and the other case in circuit court. Our policies were tested and exonerated.
INTERVIEWER: What about women’s issues?
LANE: We started using women in the factory during World War II and found them to be very skillful. Women, during a lot of years in my opinion, were trained to operate higher-technology machines. We began to put women into supervision and one of the top supervisors at Lane Company today is one of the young women that started up the ladder first in sanding, and later in supervising in the finishing room. She is now heading up major sections of the factory. We found women could do just about anything men could do. With the move toward automation and power assisted machinery, it took a lot of the strenuous lifting, twisting and repetitive motion challenges out of the furniture production process, and made it much easier for women to operate with dexterity and brains rather than brawn. That’s where we are today.
INTERVIEWER: Wouldn’t this fit pretty squarely in your early comments about the power of conveyers?
LANE: Moving the furniture by the mechanical force, we had hundreds of women on the production line that didn’t have to pick up or move a single piece of furniture. All they had to do was make whatever repairs or finishing applications necessary as it went by. I would say without that, it would have been a long time coming.
INTERVIEWER: How has shipment of your products affected your company? Rail? Truck?
LANE: That is a very legitimate and important question.
INTERVIEWER: The business of shipping by truck versus rail has been a real revolution.
LANE: Lane pretty much shipped all of its product by rail as far as I know until the 1930s. There was a gentleman that lived here in Altavista. He and his brother started the Yates Transfer Company. There were two of them and two trucks. They started hauling some Lane furniture. Then other people came into the picture and I’m sure others transported our product according to the rights that were granted in those days.
The rail strike that occurred in the mid-1960s encouraged us and others and Yates Transfer to seek rights for someone other than private suites to transport to destinations in long routes that were outside of the then narrowly restricted transportation laws. From that time on, shipping shifted heavily away from rail. We found out that the damage was less, the delivery was quicker, the dealers liked it and so we reconfigured our warehouses and shipping docks from rail transportation only to a high percentage of truck transportation. That, to the present day, as far as I know, is the preferred method of shipping cartoned product.
The upholstery industry was ahead of us in that regard because they found that they could blanket wrap upholstered pieces, very much like Allied Van Lines and other household movers were doing. They could save a lot of carton costs and they actually could reduce damage. We inherited truck fleets that the upholstery companies had required. Lane had to move into a coordinating system of trying to fill those trucks up from the various plants. That was a challenge because the loading of trucks and the upholstering of the frames was a closely coordinated procedure. When the fabric was available, the frame was upholstered and moved into the shipping bay and then into the truck almost as a continuous line. Lane had cartooned goods, which could be stored indefinitely and could be put on a conveyor and then moved into the trucks. Coordination was really a complex shipping operational problem. There was a growing transport operation but I didn’t see a lot of progression.
The one thing that Lane probably did that these upholstery companies we bought were not doing was that Lane operated the transportation fleet, which was not big. It was constrained by the underlying philosophy of it. We had two objectives in operating our trucks: one was to get our supplies and inbound material components to us on time at the lowest cost; the other was to provide good outbound service to our customers and to do so without compromising the inbound supply requirement. The main thing was that inbound and outbound coordination had to yield a profit. The trucking operation of Lane was a highly profitable operation. It was a profit center within the company and we were gradually able to enhance the profitability of our upholstered divisions by coordinating their systems along the same philosophy.
INTERVIEWER: It gets complicated but it certainly has affected your company. What has been the effect of environmental regulations?
LANE: It has been very challenging.
INTERVIEWER: It’s been expensive too.
LANE: Very. I think that maybe some of those things were necessary for the environmental health and safety purposes. It would be nice if, in this life and in this world, it were possible for government to approach the solution of these problems in an atmosphere of common sense and understanding. Unfortunately, it seems that whenever government intrudes into a sector of the private economy it only succeeds in one objective and that is to make life more difficult for everybody involved and to raise cost. I don’t know how well the public purposes are served by government involvement. Environmental and safety concerns have raised production costs in the United States and cost jobs, which has thereby resulted in moving the production processes overseas where such regulations do not exist or are loosely enforced. I think the whole evolution of the world economy dictates inevitably a cycle that favors labor intensive activity in the less developed countries. Then, by the infusion of capital and the rising of the economic tide, as Mr. Kennedy said, “all boats are lifted by a rising tide”. The result is that the level of economic well-being of the population in the lower cost countries gradually rises but not rapidly. That puts them at a cost disadvantage to other low-cost countries, thereby moving their production to the other countries. That has happened time and time again in our furniture industry.
The furniture industry is always chasing the low-cost producer from Taiwan to Indonesia, to China to Vietnam, to Thailand and etc. That happens. Those people benefited, and as a philanthropist, I’d like to see the people of those countries benefited. It is a disadvantage to the American labor market. It is uncomfortable for the American laborer to have to learn new skills. Greenspan and others have made us very much aware that the computerization and increase in productivity of the American economy as a whole has been largely responsible for the reduced poverty, the rising living standards, and the ability of all Americans to go to Wal-Mart and buy what they want at the lowest cost produced by laborers in those third world countries who now can buy American parts.
If they are fortunate, they can learn computer skills as they have in India, which they then sell to us because of the time zone changes to help further the productivity of the American market and raise the millions of peasants, if you please, in India to a higher standard of living. So maybe in God’s plan all has worked out. But in the immediate present, whether it’s the garment workers down the road 10 miles in Gretna or the people in Henry County, Virginia that lost their jobs after the capitalists had made millions from the sales of their companies, it is very uncomfortable. The problem the president has with the recent China bill that is still before the Senate is that the benefits are diffuse and hard to identify, and the pain is local.
INTERVIEWER: Kennedy was right. The rising tide lifts all the boats.
LANE: So there you have it.
INTERVIEWER: What has been the involvement of your family business in your community?
LANE: The first thing was that the family business provided one of the earliest payrolls in Altavista. It then attracted many other people to the town. They built homes. The lumber manufacturers and carpenters all had jobs. This attracted the textile industry into the town. The labor force was here learning job skills and building homes out of Lane and textile jobs. The process provided labor force for pharmaceuticals, higher technology metal-working industries and so forth. We now have a wonderfully diverse town, labor force and economic base. None of this would have been possible without the Lane Brothers Construction Company building the railroads, the cotton mill, the Lane Company and so forth.
INTERVIEWER: Describe your own involvement in social, civic and business activities outside the furniture industry.
LANE: I joined the Lions Club when I came to Altavista and was active until my travel duties in the Lane Company made it impossible to keep up attendance requirements. I was always a member of the local Methodist church and I was a Sunday school teacher almost from my adulthood to the present time. Dad always cautioned against getting very involved in those things. He would say, “Son, the best contribution you can make to the community is to help keep the Lane Company successful.” I would say that I was cautioned about becoming overly involved in local activities. What we did to benefit the community was largely done through the Lane Company.
I will hasten to add that the best thing that I ever did for the community of Altavista and its surrounding counties was to marry Minnie Bassett because she has done all the things in the community that she saw needed to be done. She mobilized the support. She raised the funds and in some cases provided some of the funds. Everything that she’s ever been able to identify that we needed has come to pass, not by her efforts alone, but with her leadership and encouragement; many people were willing to fall in and do the necessary jobs.
INTERVIEWER: I hope she reads this. That’s something she ought to hear.
LANE: My father used to say, “Son, marrying Minnie was the best day’s work you ever did.”
INTERVIEWER: What is your favorite charity? Describe your contributions to it.
LANE: My charitable activities have always begun with the church. Because of my strong disagreement with some of the policies of the United Methodist Church, to which I’ve always belonged, I looked for another outlet with which I was more comfortable politically. Through some of the visiting speakers that we had here, that our minister had brought, I became acquainted with a whole new area of Christian service now generally described as evangelical outreach. It is simply described as serious Christians who operate without regard to denomination. Through these activities I have become involved with Food for the Hungry International and have served as corporate secretary and as board chair. This has given me opportunities to travel extensively in the third-world countries where they have activities dealing with human physical needs at the most basic levels, as well as human spiritual needs.
Through these activities I recognized that Food for the Hungry was not as strong in the health care area as they were in the physical and spiritual needs areas. Minnie and I decided to begin supporting an organization known as Project Concern International. That was started by a Methodist minister who wanted to assist the refugees from China and Vietnam in the early 1960s. He and his wife left a comfortable life and practice in Coronado, California, near San Diego, and went to Hong Kong. There they established a clinic on a barge in a river basin in 1961. They got the support of Kiwanis, Rotary and other service clubs throughout the United States to organize walks for mankind. They claimed to have been the first U.S. organization to use walks for fundraising purposes. In 1991 my wife saw a 20/20 special with Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs in which Ms. Walters burst into the orphanages in Romania that had just been liberated and filmed the conditions in those orphanages.
Since we had some medical problems with some of our children, my wife thought that if our children would have had no better medical diagnosis and treatment than those children had, then they would have been similarly handicapped. She wanted to do something about that and we volunteered to go to Romania and inspect the proposed sites of orphanage activity. We saw this would lead to training the caregivers and medical specialists in Romania and upgrade child screening and remedial activities. We did this in 1991.
From that time on we became increasingly involved with Project Concern. The organization is going through a change in leadership and a crisis of fundraising and philosophy. We were able to assist them in resolving those issues and recruiting additional board members. The chairman of Project Concern is now Hugh Boyer, the former president of Lane Hickory Chair. We have been able to raise equity capital for the organization and help them satisfy many outstanding obligations that they had incurred during the previous management regime.
Through those two organizations we feel that we have been instrumental in assisting and saving tens of thousands of lives of adults and children. Also through scholarship funds, we have established programs to help children upgrade their skills to allow them to acquire job skills that will take them out of the life patterns and peasant culture in which they were born. We feel satisfaction in these activities which have also provided us with a new circle of friends and a life beyond the furniture industry.
INTERVIEWER: Well put. What is your principal leisure time activity? What has been your greatest success in it? Describe your best experience in this activity.
LANE: We keep office hours. I spend about three hours a day in our foundation office. We have a secretary; we have a treasurer. This provides us with a means of structure. That is about the right workload – half a day or a half-time job. The only difference is that I don’t get paid for it. Instead of receiving money, we give money. In the afternoons I read the Wall Street Journal. I read the leading state paper, local paper and other materials to keep me informed about what’s going on in the world so that I can make my decisions on a factual basis as well as on an inspirational basis.
Perhaps the greatest pleasure was visiting Bangladesh, Vietnam and Bolivia, and seeing right before my eyes the lives of families being changed and uplifted through the aid that we were able to provide to enhance their efforts. These are not lazy people. These are not people who are poor because they don’t have intelligence or because they don’t work hard. These are people who are living on the edge of survival often earning less than a dollar a day to support a family of four or an extended family.
Often through a microenterprise loan of $50 to $100, the whole economic basis of the family and ultimately of the community is changed. Children are not only clothed and fed but they can pay the school fees, get an education, and they can move on beyond this poverty level. To augment these efforts beyond the local educational system, which in most cases is inadequate, we have assisted our organizations in establishing an endowment that will pay for the tuition of those who wish to continue their education and upgrade their skills. We’ve received many thank you notes and progress letters about these people as they attended other schools and attained degrees or skills that allow them to earn better livings. I would say that’s the greatest satisfaction we’ve received. Of course when you hear stories about people coming to Christ and getting a faith that gives them a purpose for living, as well as the means to live, this is a great dividend.
INTERVIEWER: What have you done since you retired from the industry within the furniture industry, in other businesses or in your leisure time? Is there anything you want to add?
LANE: I really don’t have much to add. I think I’ve covered it well. We’ve increased our non-profit activities. We’ve been relieved of the for-profit financial activities by turning the management of the proceeds of the Lane purchase over to professional investment advisors who have overall done a very good job for us. They have allowed us to have the means to enjoy the activities that I described earlier. As an answer to the question, I’ll quote the title of my personal memoirs written in 1995: “What’s for dessert?” whole lot of sweet things for dessert and I’ve enjoyed them all.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you for taking so much time today for this important contribution to the furniture industry. I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly. What would you like to add in summary?
LANE: It was a privilege to work in the furniture industry during the 50 years that I had the opportunity to, going back to the 1940s when I was part-time, as well as the 1950s in my full-time activity. It is a fun industry. I learned a lot. I never really felt alone in it because there was always somebody there I knew and we had a network.
Admiral Nelson said on the eve of the battle of Trafalgar, “I had the good fortune to command a band of brothers.” All the stuff that I was able to achieve was because we had a great team. I couldn’t think of any place I’d rather work or any organization that I would have rather been associated with than the Lane Company, at least until 1987.