Henry Smith Richardson was one of five children born to Lunsford and Mary Richardson. He grew up with his father's drug store. The store had already made a good beginning under Lunsford Richardson, a persevering chemist who could make a name for his products in the minds of the public suffering from ordinary but annoying respiratory ailments. The family business began in Selma when Lunsford Richardson purchased a small drugstore.
H. Smith Richardson began honing his business skills at an early age by delivering products on his bicycle. This soon led the young salesman at the tender age of thirteen or fourteen to go on short sales trips to nearby counties which earned him the sobriquet "most successful salesman" from his father.
Smith, as he was called, attended Davidson College for a time before transferring to the Naval Academy. He was dismissed from the Academy for low grades in 1905, during a purge that resulted in the dismissal of nearly a fourth of the cadets. Following his expulsion, Smith went to New York and worked in a number of jobs. While he was working in the basement of Gimbles, Richardson's talents as a salesman were discovered by the Bedford Manufacturing Company of Massachusetts. He joined Bedford and was working for that company when his father requested his help. In 1907, Smith Richardson brought his talents home to North Carolina to turn his father's business around.
He imbibed strong family values working close to his father, and matured and developed a business acumen which helped him retain not only capital but to treat his subordinates as the bulwark of success in business.
The store grew under Smith's care. A little while later after his entry into the firm, he faced many obstacles that posed a great threat to the livelihood of the family business. Dwindling sales and profits threatened the future of the Vicks Family Remedies. After taking two short sales trips, Smith came home with a plan for success. First of all, he advocated selling only the one truly unique product of the line - the Vicks Salve. Second, he suggested that the product's name be changed to Vicks VapoRub. Finally, he suggested that the company name be changed from Vicks Family Remedies to the Vick Chemical Company. After these improvements were in place, he was ready to fulfill his father's dream, stated best in his father's words, "I had seen a vision, I had dreamed dreams of a world-wide business." Where the chemist would probably have been at his wits' end became the challenge that spurred Smith to act.
The Vick Chemical Company quickly increased sales through the hard work of many. This success was largely due to the fact that specific advertising programs were used to target different consumer groups. The talented Vick Chemical Company salesmen took to the road to tell Americans of the wonders of Vicks VapoRub. In the rural south, the popularity of Vicks VapoRub spread through word of mouth and was promoted by signs and billboards. To win over the industrial north, Richardson came up with a profitable advertising plan. Before the arrival of the Vicks team, the local paper was notified and ran advertisements alongside news columns. In this advertisement, coupons were presented to customers for sample size portions at participating local drugstores.
To complete their national empire, Richardson secured customers in the West by mailing samples to rural free delivery boxes. Richardson believed in the salve and knew that once customers knew the wonders of the drug it would sell itself. From his stronghold in the United States, he launched Vicks VapoRub successfully to South America and the European continent. Thus, a true world-wide medicinal empire had been successfully created.
The Vick Chemical Company weathered through some difficult periods. Richardson led his company to success through many obstacles, including the death of his father in 1919, the Depression, and an unsuccessful merger in 1930 with three other drug companies to form Drug Inc. However, along with these unfortunate occurrences came some situations, such as the Spanish influenza of 1918/1919, that greatly boosted demand for the company's products. Through all these times, Richardson continued to lead his company successfully. The company was rejuvenated in 1938 when The Vick Chemical Company acquired the Merrell Company, thus becoming Richardson Merrell, Inc.
Richardson began to withdraw from the day-to-day running of the business in the 1930's and dedicated himself to the development of a management philosophy. With this objective in mind, he studied the business cycle to formulate a plan to guide executives. In addition, Richardson instituted an early recruiting program to find talented individuals and implemented a management development program to train these promising individuals. By the mid-1930s, Vick was one of the largest United States college recruiters, using the novel approach of a post-graduate 15-month course in marketing, known as the Vicks School of Applied Merchandising. The program was so highly regarded that Vick could attract many top college graduates each year. On completion of each year's program, Vick kept the best students and helped the others secure good jobs. Richardson further aided these programs with the Executive Personnel Committee, the Long-Range Planning Committee, a Finance Committee, and accelerated the role and function of the Board of Directors. Richardson had truly fulfilled his father's dream of a worldwide empire for Vicks VapoRub.
The Smith Richardson Foundation was established in 1935 by H. Smith Richardson and his wife, Grace Jones Richardson. He lived by principles that are often termed old-fashioned, and he gave generously of his wealth. Few people have combined Mr. Richardson's respect for traditional values and his willingness to innovate. He believed in giving bright young people responsibility commensurate with their abilities. Throughout his life he maintained a direct interest in people and institutions conceived to improve the lives of others. There was a rich complexity to him that impressed everyone who knew him.
"Opportunity" and "Right" were the key words in his personal creed. He believed that "Opportunity" was something to be pursued with the utmost diligence and seized with zeal. His belief in a personal bill of rights was equally strong: a person rightfully owned what his industry brought him, and the free enterprise system permitted the maximum scope for industry. It was these qualities which enabled him to transform his father's small mortar-and-pestle drug manufacturing business into an industrial concern of international stature.
In addition to holding executive positions at Vick and in a number of financial, insurance, and real estate companies, Richardson was a member of the United States Chamber of Commerce and active in the National Association of Manufacturers, especially during the early years of World War II when the Association was particularly vocal. Richardson also participated in numerous civic and philanthropic activities benefiting both North and South Carolina and the nation, as did his brother Lunsford Richardson, Jr., who worked alongside Smith in the family business. Smith Richardson was an isolationist on the eve of World War II and actively supported the America First Committee, a strong voice against American entry into the war. Smith Richardson retired in 1957 after suffering a slight stroke.
Smith's outdoor activities matched his expansive and wide interests. He was influential in the passage of legislation creating the North Carolina Wildlife Commission. He was also a life member of the National Council Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America and was very active in this capacity until his death.
Richardson had spent the last 40 years of his life at Green Farms, Fairfield County, Conn., and was active in area affairs, officially through the Foundation and privately as a member of various clubs and associations. Richardson was also a lifelong member and financial supporter of the Presbyterian Church. He remained active throughout his life. At the time of his retirement in 1957 sales had risen to about $95 million. At the time of his death, sales had reached approximately $450 million.
He was buried in Green Hill Cemetery in Greensboro, as was his father before him.
Grace Stuart Jones Richardson
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