John Lewis Thompson.
That youth is no barrier to successful manipulation of capital has been demonstrated time and time again, and many instances exist where the young man of ability has erected a lasting monument to his business sagacity. No better illustration of the force of youth is to be found than in the accomplishments of John Lewis Thompson, a citizen of Willard, Texas, but whose name is known far beyond the confines of the Lone Star State.
In considering a man's character and his success as a whole, his environment and the training that he received must be considered. J. Lewis Thompson inherited, it might be said, a liking for the lumber industry from his father, J. M. Thompson, one of the early lumbermen in Texas and one who has lived to witness the achievements of his son. Young Thompson learned the business, while a youth, from the saw up. He has passed from one position to another, each step one of promotion, until today he is the president of the Thompson & Tucker Lumber Company, of Willard.
The Thompson family lived on a farm in Rusk County, Texas, in 1875, and on February 14, of that year, John Lewis Thompson was born. Two years later the farm life was given up and the father took his wife and baby to Kilgore, Gregg County, in the same State, where he engaged in the general store business, though as early as 1852 he had started in the manufacture of lumber. The boy was always called Lewis by his parents and few people know him as John Thompson. He received his education in the schools of Kilgore and in 1891 completed an academic course at the college at Sherman, Texas.
He had a desire to enter college and secure a degree, but his father persuaded him to accept employment with the Thompson & Tucker Lumber Company, which business had been established by J. M. Thompson. A position was found for him as a clerk in the commissary department. To a college-bred man with ambitions the remuneration $20 a month and board might have seemed too small. But young Thompson was earnest and progressive and was there to learn the business in all its details. That he devoted himself to his work and performed it with satisfaction is attested by the fact that after three months' service his wages were increased to $50 a month. When a vacancy in the bookkeeping department occurred the clerk was the one chosen to assume these duties, and it was not long before he had an intimate knowledge of the credits and of the office end of the business as well.
During the time Lewis Thompson was laboring in a minor capacity he was mastering the details of each department and embodying ideas of his own in their conduct. He was there to study, to observe, and few details escaped his attention. That he was with the company heart and soul is shown in the fact that he rejected an offer from a Kansas City lumber company to become its purchasing agent, the salary of $3,000 being an inducement in itself. At that period he was receiving but $75 a month. The offer did not bother the young man; he had set his face toward a purpose and that purpose was to know everything about the lumber business that could be learned at the plant of the Thompson & Tucker Lumber Company.
Industry has its reward, and it was not long in coming to Mr. Thompson. His work had been appreciated, his services were valuable and the company realized that it had a man of ability in its employ. He was granted a year's absence with pay and accepted the opportunity of increasing his knowledge of commercial affairs by taking up a course of study at a business college in Poughkeepsie, New York. Finishing the course, he spent a few weeks in the East and at the end of five months he was back at his desk at the mill. The vacation and trip was almost as beneficial to the company as it was to Mr. Thompson, for he was not slow in incorporating in the operation of the company's affairs the knowledge he had gained during his absence. Additional responsibilities were put upon him as occasion arose, and it may be said truthfully that he never gave room for disappointment in the confidence reposed in him. His ideas were broadening the while and, in 1897, he determined to engage in the lumber business for himself, having decided to invest what capital he had in a yard in Indian Territory.
When he made known his intention it met with the instant disapproval of his father. Mr. Thompson, Senior, offered to sell him $10,000 worth of stock in the Thompson & Tucker Lumber Company. This offer was not entirely satisfactory, but the younger man agreed to give his services without compensation if he were allowed to buy $50,000 of the stock of the company, his notes for the payments to bear no interest, the contract further providing that, should he leave the company before the notes had been taken up, the stock should revert to the original holders. The agreement was made. The stock represented one-fourth interest in the business. Mr. Thompson worked with renewed energy for the success of the company and at the end of the three years he had been able to cancel each of the notes issued for the stock transferred to him. When J. M. Thompson, his father, was considering a proposition to dispose of the Willard mill property for $500,000, the younger man objected on the ground that the valuation was placed too low. So the son set about to make a new deal which resulted in the entire plant and timber holdings of the company passing into the hands of John Lewis Thompson, Thomas Foster, of Houston, Texas, and Benjamin B. Foster, of Kansas City, a majority of the stock being retained by J. L. Thompson.
A reorganization of the company took place in 1901, since which time the active management has been carried out brilliantly by Lewis Thompson, and few lumber companies in Texas today have as bright a record as that of the Thompson & Tucker concern.
Mr. Thompson was instrumental in forming, in 1904, with his father, the J. M. Thompson Lumber Company, with a paid in capital of $300,000, of which he is general manager. All of the stock is owned by members of the Thompson family. About 60,000 acres of shortleaf pine timber and fifteen miles of frontage along the Trinity River are included in the property. From this tract, it is estimated, 300,000,000 feet of pine will be cut, besides 50,000,000 feet of oak, gum and ash. J. M. Thompson is president of the company; J. A. Thompson, vice president; L. N. Thompson, secretary, and J. T. Beall, treasurer.
As a stockholder and director in the Merchants' National Bank and the Union Bank & Trust Company, of Houston, Texas, and the Grayson County National Bank, of Sherman, Mr. Thompson is associated with several of the leading financial enterprises of his native State. He is one of the foremost members of the Southern Lumber Manufacturers' Association, he is in its directorate and a member of the committee on values, and his word bears much weight in the councils of the organization. He is a Hoo-Hoo, a thirty-second degree Mason, a Knight Templar and a Shriner.
Mr. Thompson married June 21, 1898, at Sherman, Texas, Miss Helen Kerr. Two children have been born to the couple John Lewis, Junior, and Benjamin Franklin Thompson.