Hormel’s memoir chronicles his rise in business from the 19th into the 20th century.
James C. Hormel, a former U.S. ambassador, stumbled upon a memoir written by his paternal grandfather, George A. Hormel, the founder of Hormel Foods, which produces Spam and other food brands. The autobiography begins in 1873, when Hormel was 13 and a nationwide economic panic hobbled his father’s tannery in Toledo, Ohio, and compelled him to quit school and seek work. Hormel moved to Chicago to work for his uncle, and by 19, he had been employed for six years in three different industries. He was a talented wool buyer for years, but a lonely life on the road was unfulfilling; he became too fond of gambling and struggled to get ahead. With a $500 loan from his boss, the entrepreneur started his own business in Austin, Minnesota—a general supply depot for the meat industry. Hormel weathered extraordinary challenges—an economic depression in 1907, disastrous floods, poor crop harvests, and hog epidemics—and finally built a business successful enough to list on the Chicago Stock Exchange in 1929. When the stock market crashed, he retired and handed over the company’s reins to his son, Jay. In elegant, charming prose, the author also recounts lessons he learned from his greatest influences, first and foremost his father, John George Hormel, about a wide range of subjects including the nature of business, the intersection of commerce and government, and his religious convictions. One of the recurrent themes of the book—another lesson delivered by his father and beautifully related by Hormel—is the balance between one’s trust in God and one’s reliance upon oneself: “Like all deeply religious men, he believed in the ultimate justice and wisdom of Providence. But he clearly saw that since men were the instruments on this earth through whose free will their Maker had chosen to manifest Himself, progress inevitably waited on the speed with which they comprehended their possibilities.” Hormel’s account of technological innovation in relation to business is extraordinarily prescient and should be of instructive interest to thoughtful entrepreneurs. In an age saturated with business-driven self-help books offering flimsy and familiar counsel, this is a more serious, historically fascinating alternative. Black-and-white family photos are included.
A gracefully distilled account of a remarkable life in business and beyond.