As Rochester’s large companies have undergone restructuring during the 1990s, leaders continually point to the area’s ability to absorb displaced workers into growing enterprises.
At the same time, the leaders point to the need for more innovation, new chapters to add to the story told by Rochester’s top businesspeople in this millennium.
The Rochester Business Journal, with the help of some key historians and business leaders, have chosen 10 businesspeople who have contributed the most to the area’s commercial and social culture. Judges included city historian Ruth Rosenberg-Naparsteck and former city historian Blake McKelvey. Nominations came from area businesspeople.
From George Eastman to Joseph Wilson, these leaders have built a foundation based on technological innovation and dominance in their industries.
As Thomas Golisano, chairman, president and CEO of Paychex Inc., said this summer: “There is a common trait among entrepreneurs. They see something that isn’t working right, they want to change it. That is how businesses get started.”
Golisano also was talking about his and other business leaders’ commitment to social change and company culture, a hallmark of all 10 businesspeople chosen by the panel.
John Jacob Bausch was born in Gross Suessen, Germany, of a poor family, and was apprenticed to a spectacle maker. At the age of 20, in 1850, he decided to emigrate to America, and at age 23, decided to set up an optician’s shop in the Reynolds Arcade under the name of J. J. Bausch, Optician. His friend, Henry Lomb, loaned him $60.
At first, sales were scarce because hardly anyone used eyeglasses, but Bausch developed a frame made out of a hard rubber called vulcanite. The company started to grow.
In 1875, the firm branched out into optical instruments at the urging of Bausch’s oldest son, Edward. The company started with the microscope. At the time, only 50 existed in the United States.
The microscope work, however, proceeded successfully under Edward Bausch’s direction, and by 1903 the company had sold about 44,000 instruments. His development of mass-production techniques made microscopes available at modest cost to labs and schools throughout the world.
In 1883, Edward Bausch patented the iris diaphragm shutter, a new photographic shutter based on the reaction of the eye’s iris to light. Photographers lauded the discovery as a great help because they were able to experiment with rapid exposures and other developing photographic techniques.
Bausch & Lomb Inc. began manufacturing shutters in 1888, and became the only company in America licensed to make Zeiss Anastigmats and other lenses. The company also made Compound and Compur shutters by agreement with Deckel, arrangements that remained until World War I.
By 1903, Bausch & Lomb was making approximately 20 million spectacle lenses a year, 500,000 photographic lenses and 550,000 shutters.
Edward Bausch led the company with his brother, William, for 69 years until 1944, the year they both died. They expanded the company to more than 8,000 employees in four countries.
William Bausch’s largest contribution to the company began in 1912 with an experimental glass laboratory. Until that time, almost all optical-quality glass was imported from Europe, but Bausch & Lomb became the first American producer of optical-quality glass.
By the end of 1917, the company was producing upwards of 40,000 pounds of this glass per month, fulfilling more than two-thirds of the government’s wartime requirements for glass for binoculars, rifle scopes, telescopes and search lights.
Born on Feb. 8, 1906, Chester Carlson grew up in San Bernardino, Calif. His father was a barber who developed crippling arthritis, so by the time he was 14, Carlson was the main source of income for his family.
One of his ventures was a chemical magazine he published.
Despite family hardships–his mother died when he was 17–Carlson enrolled in a junior college in Riverside, Calif., and went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in physics from the California Institute of Technology.
But his schooling left Carlson with a $1,400 debt, and finding a job during the Depression was not easy. He sent out letters to 82 different companies, but received only two replies and no offers.
Carlson managed to find temporary work as a research engineer for Bell Labs in New York City but was laid off as the Depression deepened. He found a job at the electronics firm of P.R. Mallory and was eventually promoted to manager of the company’s patent department. At night, he went to law school to become a patent attorney.
Carlson was frustrated during his tenure at Mallory because there were never enough copies of the patent materials. The only choices at the time to make more copies were sending out the patents to be photographed or copying them by hand.
Carlson inherited his father’s crippling arthritis, which added to his frustration over copying methods. He knew there had to be a better way. He spent months poring over scientific articles at the New York Public Library.
He ruled out photography as a method and turned his attention to the field of photoconductivity. At the time, this was a new field of study discovered by Hungarian physicist Paul Selenyi.
Carlson realized photoconductivity could be used to make a copying machine, and he set up a lab in his apartment in the Jackson Heights area of Queens. He applied for his first patent in 1937.
After his wife demanded he move his lab out of the family’s kitchen, Carlson moved his office into the back of a beauty salon owned by his mother-in-law. Carlson hired a German physicist named Otto Kornei to help. In 1938, the two made the first photocopy.
Carlson once again was faced with money problems, and took his research to several companies between 1939 and 1944. All of them turned him down.
Carlson had continued his job at Mallory during this time, through which he met Battelle Research Institute officials. They signed a royalty-sharing deal with Carlson to receive 40 percent of the proceeds. Battelle went to work to perfect the copier.
Battelle added a new Selenium-coated plate and better dry ink to Carlson’s invention, and in 1947 signed a licensing agreement with what was then a small Rochester company called Haloid Co. The first photocopiers were introduced in 1949, and the first successful product debuted a decade later by the renamed Haloid-Xerox Corp.
Carlson died in 1968 during a walk down 57th Street in New York City. Of the estimated $150 million dollars he had earned from Xerox, he gave some $100 million to charity.
George Eastman transformed photography from an expensive chore into a household hobby for millions of Americans, and in the process built Rochester’s largest employer.
Eastman was born in Waterville on July 12, 1854. The family moved to Rochester six years later, where Eastman attended school and started working, first for an insurance company and then a bank.
But Eastman’s destiny would be photography. He had developed an interest in the field, and by 1880 he had developed a process for making dry plates, which were used at the time in picture making. He formed the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Co.
His breakthrough came in 1884 with his development of paper-backed film, which Eastman’s company began making the following year. In 1888, he introduced the world’s first simple box camera. The camera was named Kodak, a word that, as far as Eastman knew, did not carry a meaning in any language.
Kodak, along with its yellow-and-black packaging, now is one of the best-known trademarks in the world.
The first Kodak camera came already loaded with film. The user then sent the entire camera to the factory for film processing, and the camera was reloaded and returned to the user.
That time-consuming process was eliminated in 1892 with the introduction of daylight-loading film. That same year, the camera maker was renamed Eastman Kodak Co.
By 1900, Kodak Park was bustling, and by 1930, the company had a near monopoly on the photography business in the United States.
Although the company has weathered tough times in the 1990s, it still is Rochester’s largest employer, with 28,000 local workers (down from 40,000).
Yet Eastman had built more than just a solid manufacturing business by the time he died in 1932. He introduced pension programs and health benefits for workers, helped build Rochester’s health care system and started the Community Chest, the forerunner to the United Way of Greater Rochester Inc.
He gave more than $75 million to charities and educational endeavors, resulting in, among other institutions, the Eastman School of Music and the Eastman Dental Center.
Marion Folsom was born in McRae, Ga., in 1893, graduated from the University of Georgia and Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, then joined Eastman Kodak Co.
After serving in the Army in World War I, he returned to his post of assistant to George Eastman and, later, treasurer of Kodak. Folsom is credited with developing many of Kodak’s benefits programs, including its pension plan, which was one of the first in the nation.
Beyond developing Kodak’s social-service programs and influencing the development of the area’s health system, Folsom in 1934 was appointed by President Roosevelt to serve on the Advisory Council on Economic Security. This panel laid the foundation for the present Social Security program.
Folsom increased his involvement in governmental affairs during World War II and the rebuilding years afterward. He resigned from Kodak in 1953 to become undersecretary of the treasury. President Eisenhower subsequently appointed him secretary of health, education and welfare, a post he held until 1958.
Folsom continued to be an influential force in civic affairs until his death in 1976.
Frank Gannett and his partners began a communications empire when they bought half-interest in the Elmira Gazette in 1906. In 1912, Gannett bought the Ithaca Journal, then in 1918, he and his associates bought the Rochester Union and Advertiser and the Evening Times.
The Times-Union was created, and holdings increased through the Empire State Group. In 1923, Gannett bought out his partners and Gannett Co. Inc. was born.
Gannett Co. expanded throughout the Northeast during the next 25 years, and in 1947 operated 21 newspapers and seven radio stations.
Gannett continually invested in technology, developing the teletypesetter in 1929. Newsrooms later were equipped with shortwave radios. The company adapted presses for color plates in the late 1930s, and in 1945, the newspapers were connected through the Telephoto Network. In 1943, the Gannett National Service–now the Gannett News Service–was born.
Frank Gannett was adamant about editorial autonomy, resisting both economic and political pressures, although he was politically involved himself.
Gannett exerted his influence in Times-Union editorial pages, expressing reformist views during the 1920s. In the 1930s, he showed early enthusiasm for the New Deal but took a neutral stand in 1936, and then joined the opposition. In the late 1930s, he backed a successful Republican drive to retake control of city government.
In 1940, Gannett took a stab at running for office himself, trying to win the Republican presidential nomination.
Gannett, like Eastman, believed philanthropy was an important corporate ideal and set aside money for each newspaper in the chain to donate to local organizations.
Under Paul Miller, and then Allen Neuharth, Gannett Co. continued to grow and went public in 1967.
Today, Gannett Co.’s headquarters have moved to Arlington, Va., where USA Today is published. The company publishes 75 daily newspapers–including the Democrat and Chronicle–with paid circulation of some 6.7 million. The company also owns 21 televisions stations.
Frank Gannett died in 1957.
James E. Gleason
William Gleason immigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1851 and settled in Rochester, where he apprenticed in a machine shop. In 1865, he formed Connell and Gleason, which eventually became Gleason Corp.
William Gleason invented the bevel gear planer, the basis for the company’s leadership in the gear industry.
James E. Gleason joined the company as a teenager and followed in his father’s footsteps. His inventions include the Two-Tool Bevel Gear Generator, discovered in 1905.
He became president of the company in 1922, when his father died, and chairman of the board in 1947. He was active in the company until his death in 1964 at the age of 94.
Under Gleason’s leadership, the company’s bevel gear design system became the world’s leading standard in the industry.
Gleason’s son, James, now runs the company and is currently leading an effort to make the public company private again.
The Gleason Works plant on University Avenue was originally acquired in 1904 and today includes 900,000 square feet of manufacturing space, including a large addition added in the 1950s.
Thomas Golisano–founder, chairman and CEO of Paychex Inc., a payroll, benefits and human resources outsourcing firm that garnered $597 million in service revenues in fiscal year 1999–began his career waking at 5:30 a.m. to deliver newspapers.
During high school, Golisano, 58, also cleaned up sticky soda pop and beer cans at the Terrace Gardens Lanes bowling alley. Money was tight in his West Irondequoit household.
Following high school graduation, he worked for a year as a cash counter and bank teller to save enough money for room, board and books at Alfred University. Golisano earned an associate’s degree and went to work. At age 30, he founded Paychex when his employer, a local payroll-processing firm, thought his idea of offering such a service to small and midsize companies was absurd.
That was 1971. The rest is history. The company has grown steadily, and is now a 6,000-employee, 340,000-client company that has delivered a 31 percent annual compounded growth rate for its shareholders since it went public in 1983.
Blase Thomas Golisano is now Rochester’s first billionaire, who has become a civic leader as well as one of Rochester’s top businesspeople. He has run for governor twice on the Independence Party ticket, and in 1989 was among a group of community leaders who formed Rochester Fights Back, a drug abuse prevention program. He eventually became head of the coalition. He also helped launch the “Not Me, Not Now” teenage pregnancy prevention campaign.
He also has invested in several local businesses, including the Equipoise Center of America LLC.
After several weeks of grilling Al Sigl Center president Daniel Meyers about every program and budgetary line item, Golisano added his own contribution to the capital campaign–$2 million, the largest gift in the organization’s history.
Golisano, who comes from an immigrant Italian family, can recite every line from the 1987 hit movie “Moonstruck”–a tale of a tumultuous, yet loving Italian brood–and delights in sharing stories about his four precocious grandchildren. He said this past summer that the most satisfying aspect of Paychex is working with his employees and knowing that the company helped build financial security for them.
The formula seems to be working, which comes as no surprise to Thomas Dunn, retired associate professor of accounting at Alfred and Golisano’s favorite college mentor.
“Tom was always an outstanding and ambitious individual,” recalls Dunn, who chats with his protege a few times a year. “He always had unusual ideas and was willing to take a chance on developing something new. Through the years, we’ve remained good friends, and I marvel at how he perceives a need and develops a means to fulfill it. I am very proud of him.”
Harper Sibley’s grandfather, Hiram Sibley, started Western Union in the 1800s.
In the 1900s, Harper Sibley continued his grandfather’s commitment to business development by serving as director of Western Union and several other corporations, such as Security Trust Co. He also served on several bank boards, including the Alliance Bank, which became Lincoln First Bank N.A. Lincoln First subsequently merged with the Chase Manhattan Bank.
But Sibley’s contribution to business development did not end with his numerous corporate appointments. He served on several industry task forces and associations, and was president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the late 1930s.
Sibley took an interest in foreign missionary work and the relief of refugees in the years following World War II. He was the Chamber’s representative to the international conference that launched the United Nations.
Wegmans Food Markets Inc. is considered a leader in its industry, continually named as a top regional chain in trade publications. The man responsible for building what his father and uncle started into a household name in Upstate New York is Robert Wegman, 80.
Grocery stores are in the Wegmans’ blood. Robert Wegman’s grandparents ran a grocery store. His father and uncle started their own store, the Rochester Fruit & Vegetable Co., in 1916, and then purchased the Seel Grocery Co. to become a full-service grocery. The first showcase Wegmans opened in 1930 in a 20,000-square-foot space on Clinton Ave., which included cafeteria seating for 300.
Starting a tradition of grocery firsts, in 1932, Wegmans introduced refrigerated display windows and vaporized water sprays to keep produce fresh.
In 1949, a year before he became company president, Robert Wegman converted the stores to a self-service format. In 1953, the stores started offering benefits to their full-time employees.
In 1967, Wegmans started what has became a major source of income for the chain–food processing–as it opened a $2 million egg farm and processing facility near Wolcott. Private-label brands were introduced in 1979.
In 1968, Wegmans expanded outside Rochester with its first store in Syracuse, and in 1972 opened its first pharmacy. It now has more than 35 stores in Buffalo, Syracuse and Pennsylvania, as well as a new store in Princeton, N.J.
The chain employs more than 8,000 full-time and 18,500 part-time workers, and had revenues of more than $2.4 million in 1998.
Wegman has served as chairman of the board of St. John Fisher College. He also has served on the executive committees of the Greater Rochester Metro Chamber of Commerce Inc. and the United Community Chest of Greater Rochester. He has served on the boards of the Center for Governmental Research Inc. and the former Marine Midland Bank, and has also served as a board member or chairman of a number of industry associations.
Wegman has been given a number of awards, including the 1994 Civic Medal Award from the Chamber.
Wegman received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Niagara University. He and his wife, Peggy, have four children: Daniel, Joan, Gail and Marie. Daniel Wegman now serves as president of the grocery chain.
Haloid Co. was born the same year as Chester Carlson, 1906. It successfully manufactured photocopy paper and machines and photographic paper through the end of World War II, when it started looking for a product to carry it through the second half of the century.
Haloid’s director of research, John Dessauer, saw a review of Carlson’s invention in 1945 and discussed it with Joseph Wilson, who was soon to become president of the company.
Wilson was intrigued by Carlson’s photocopying invention, and under his leadership, Haloid negotiated a deal with Battelle Memorial Institute, which owned the rights. Funds were raised, research and development operations expanded and management reassigned to the new product line.
The first photocopiers were introduced in 1949 to little fanfare or success; they were panned for being too complicated.
Wilson and Haloid went back to the drawing board, perfecting the product and renaming it, creating a new corporate identity in the process. The company came up with xerography, taken from “xeros,” the Greek word for “dry,” and “graphein,” which means “to write.” Xerox was trademarked, and a new era began.
The first successful product debuted a decade later by the renamed Haloid-Xerox Corp. Soon after, the company inked a partnership to create Rank Xerox Ltd. in London, the first step in building a multinational conglomerate.
The machine caught on quickly. By the end of 1961, Xerox had nearly $60 million in revenues. By 1965, revenues leaped to over $500 million.
Wilson, grandson of a Rochester mayor by the same name, pursued the basic belief that a successful company must combine technology and humanism. Like Kodak before it, Xerox became involved in the community.
The company, like Wilson himself, is known for social-service commitments such as non-profit leave and matching gift programs.
(This article was researched by Catherine Roberts and Debbie Waltzer.)