Meet Me in St. Louis
For years Graybar was headquartered in the heart of New York’s business district in midtown Manhattan, but that changed when James Hoagland became president in 1980. “I had some plans,” he says, “and one of the first plans was to get out of New York.” He says the cost of doing business in the city was too great, and many employees were reluctant to work there because of housing prices, taxes and long commute times.
Graybar formed a committee—comprised of Hoagland, Secretary and General Counsel George Tulloch and Vice President and Treasurer Carl Owen, Jr.—to investigate potential new locations. “We wanted to be in the central time zone,” Hoagland says, “because it’s easier to manage a nationwide business from a central geographic location. Second, we wanted to find a place where our employees could have a reasonable commute, buy a house at a reasonable price and send their kids to good public schools.”
The committee visited several cities before choosing Clayton, Missouri, on the outskirts of St. Louis. “I was in the room when Jim told the staff the company was moving,” former Chairman, President and CEO Bob Reynolds says. “There was shock. He asked if there were any questions. One person finally asked, ‘How’s the weather in St. Louis?’ And he said, ‘Colder [than New York] in the winter and hotter in the summer.’”
The move was completed in 1982. It affected the headquarters staff but not any of the districts or branches, and it involved about 5 percent of the company’s employees. The majority of headquarters staff transferred to St. Louis even though many initially had reservations about the idea. Holly Temple, a native New Yorker, had joined the company in 1963 out of high school as a receptionist. She says moving to St. Louis “was the most traumatic thing I ever did.” As a New Yorker who relied on public transit, she had never owned a car and did not even have a driver’s license. “I had to learn to drive at 37,” she says. But she adjusted, got her license and soon enjoyed life in the Midwest. She continued to advance in her career and became a Graybar general accountant before retiring in 2006.
Graybar is now a fixture in the city, and it is hard to imagine it being located anywhere else.