Robert Crooks Stanley (1876-1951) – The Grandfather of the Nickel Industry (Part 2 of 2)

This backgrounder was written by Ken Cherney and researched by Ron Orasi for Inco Limited employees worldwide in August 1989. Please note that this backgrounder is from the company perspective. Many controversial issues have been omitted however it is still a valuable historical document.

Mond Nickel

Outstanding in Stanley’s program was the consolidation with The Mond Nickel Company, Limited, early in 1929, to form The International Nickel Company of Canada, Limited. The marriage made for an efficient development of ore reserves and the economical treatment of the ore mined. It also brought into a single unit, one organization to satisfy some 75 per cent of the world’s annual nickel consumption.

During this period, Stanley and his colleagues had succeeded in establishing a market for a product that had little demand when they stared. It was time for him to change the character of the corporation. In his 1931 speech to a gathering of shareholder he said: “The Company’s main activity has ceased to be that of mining. Its works and business are day by day becoming more commercial and widespread throughout the world, and the Company’s success now depends less on the ore reserves than on the ability to find, or make, markets which will take the manufactured product of the Company.”

Over the years, the Company was to shift and alter its centre of balance, maintaining an appropriate measure of research and development of products and the growth of its processing and mining operations.

In the face of the depression, the Company completed a plant and mine modernization program begun in 1926. The cost was $52 million. The year was 1931. In that year nickel sales held up well at nearly 56 million pounds. Throughout that decade Canada was to produce nearly 90 per cent of the world’s nickel. The remaining 10 per cent originated in New Caledonia, Norway, Germany, Greece, Burma, Brazil and Tasmania.

Prior to the First World War, the greater amount of nickel production was uses in armaments. The extent to which peace-time applications had supplemented war uses in the years following the first conflict can be seen from the fact that in 1939, the year of the greatest war preparation, some 15 per cent of the world’s supply of nickel was used in armaments, with 85 per cent in peace-time applications.

During the six years of the Second World War, Inco, under Stanley’s direction, produced and delivered to the Allied countries for military and essential purposes about one and one-half billion pounds of nickel, together with more than one and three-Quarter billion pounds of refined copper and substantial quantities of the platinum-group metals, so vital to the war effort.

Stanley, as President of Inco, assumed the Chairmanship of the Company upon the death of Charles Hayden in 1937. In 1949 he relinquished the Presidency, remaining Chairman of the Board.

Master Metallurgist

A Forbes Magazine article in 1940 tackled the task of describing the man who became the grandfather of the world’s nickel industry: “At 65, the master metallurgist is hiself a fine piece of human metal, with the torso of a six-footer. His hair is platinum grey, though the thick eyebrows are bushy and black. The skin is a coppery tan, evidence of a continuing devotion to golf and the other outdoors sports. The mouth is large and generous; keen imaginative eyes sit in a strong, round Scottish head. He smiles readily, revealing dimples of the sort that mothers love.”

In 1949, a Nickel Information Service communiqué dwelt on his career successes: “No aspect of his Company’s mining, milling, smelting, refining, marketing and other functions, with which he has been associated during successive stages of over 47 years of continuous service, has escaped his intimate acquaintance and study. Over the years he has not only piloted his organization successfully through cyclical periods of prosperity and depression, but has caused it to emerge stronger. His business acumen and exceptional ability in organizational, productive and executive matters have sometimes overshadowed his rare metallurgical skill.”

In a press interview during his presidency he took the opportunity to proclaim his personal view of what made Robert Crooks Stanley tick: “I have always liked the give and take of sports. Football, in particular impresses upon the players the value, in fact the necessity, of group effort and cooperation. It’s the same in business, in life generally. Our organization has been built upon that principle. In football, too, victory generally goes to the team with the best-trained reserves. Tomorrow’s stars come from the ranks of today’s second stringers.”

Just and Durable Peace

Robert Crook Stanley’s impact exceeded that in the mining and metallurgy fields. In the spring of 1943, he attended a luncheon of a church organization at which the main topic of discussion was the kind of peace the world should seek to achieve after the war. His interest was so profound that out of this experience he initiated a national advertising campaign in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom in support of “A Just and Durable Peace.”

The ads were placed in a wide variety of newspapers, farm publications, magazines and country weeklies. Individuals in scores of communities found in their papers a series of advertisements urging them to think about and discuss the kind of peace that would benefit the post-war period. The messages in the ads were largely edited by Robert Stanley. Some were even rewritten by him.

The ads contained no mention of Inco’s products, so they attained wide recognition from persons in all walks of life. More than 100 editorials were published commenting on the “Just and Durable Peace” program of the Company. Response was so great that a booklet of the ads and editorials was printed to further the cause of a lasting peace.

Order of Leopold

Beyond the Inco organization, Robert Stanley held directorships on the boards of nine companies in North America and the United Kingdom. His obituary lists membership in 24 businesses, philanthropic and educational organizations. It further lists seven major awards for outstanding achievement. Among them, the rank of Commander of the Order of Leopold, an honour conferred upon him by His Majesty King Leopold at Brussels, Belgium in 1937. Following World War II he was awarded His Majesty’s Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom. This honour, by King George VI, was authorized by His Majesty for the expression of gratitude to non-Britons who assisted the British people during the war and in recognition of valuable service to the Allied Cause.

“Work not words”

A Nickel Information Service press release in 1949 closes with the following summary of Robert Crooks Stanley’s career: “ ‘Work, not words’, his guiding principle, characterizes the modest but vigorous man, who, by finding ‘recreation in work’, has helped to give unity, effectiveness and growth to a vast industry whose development has contributed much economically and scientifically to modern times.”

Even the pure numbers tell the story of Stanley’s success. Under his leadership sales of nickel increased form 13 million pounds in 1921 to 241 million pounds in the year of his death in 1951. Over his 27 year presidency, Inco earned $570 million in net profits and returned $462 million in dividends to its shareholders.

Salmon Fishing

Throughout his busy career he did take time to nurture a beloved pastime. For over 25 years, Stanley spent his vacations in Canada, enjoying salmon fishing on the York River in Gaspe, Quebec.