James J. Lynn
Worked Toward His Turning Point
This is the fifteenth in a series of articles telling of the turning
in the careers of widely known Kansas Citians.
"I BELIEVE THAT PREPARING FOR THE
TURNING POINT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE
CHANCE ITSELF." SAYS JAMES J. LYNN
When James J. Lynn was 5 years old he was the "beatinest thing" they had ever seen, according to the farmers who gathered in Alex Watson's general store that Saturday afternoon in 1898.
Standing on a cracker box in the middle of the floor he was embarrassed by the attention the men who sat around on kegs who shook their head in contemplation of him. But he knew he could spell any word in the book or he would have been too mortified to be there.
"I'll bet he can't spell another one," said Peter Ivey, kicking the mud off his gum boots.
Alex Watson, the handsome proprietor of the best store in Archibald, La., waved the blue-backed speller in one hand, shouting, "Any word out of here boys, and seven months ago he didn't know 'a' front 'w.' All right, Jim spell 'Incompatibility.'"
That will get him," said Lawson Montgomery.
"I-n-c-o-m-p-a-t-i-b-i-l-i-t-y," the boy spelled, noticing that even the gray cat became silent on the counter.
"Let's have another one. Spell 'incomprehensible.'"
That was easy. After he had spelled the word and fifteen others equally hard the tension broke.
A big fellow with a black beard bit off a chew and said, "I swan."
A. B. Chapman remarked, There's nothing like it ever been seen this side of Baton Rouge, I reckon."
WENT DEEP INTO EVERY SUBJECT.
His mother always said that Jim was unusual because he was so easily mortified. At school he could never stand the humiliation of an imperfect lesson. When a question was asked he had to be able to answer it.
But it seemed that succeeding years disclose something else---a rapidly hardening mechanism of concentration that drilled into the future as directly as a steel bit bores into wood. When he was 10 years old, walking the forest shaded banks of Big Creek with a fishing pole in his hand, there was little about him to suggest "the Barefoot Boy," aimless and light hearted, that drove the poet Whittier to rhyme. He read every book that he could find on fishing. It was a science.
His cousin, Ernest Archibald: said, "It's that patent bait does it. You're no better fisherman than I am."
AT 15 A CLERK, AT 18 AN ACCOUNTANT.
At 13 Jim went to work for the railroad at Archibald. Two years later his first boss, Tillman Ferguson, got word of him from Ferriday, where he had been advanced by the division superintendent. A 15-year-old boy with a regular clerk's job at $65 a month!
"By dogs!" said Ferguson, "that kid beats anything I ever saw. He'll be a division superintendent some day."
James Lynn could not stand the humiliation of mistakes on his books and he did not make them. At 18 he was a regular accountant for the Missouri Pacific in Kansas City. But even then he had seen that railroad advancement was slower than the growth of his talents. The Bell Telephone Company offered a job with shorter hours--time for study and still faster development. The iron of the mechanism was already hard and in the next two years, the steel bored directly toward the turning point in a career. They were two intense years. His accounting books were classics of perfection. He read every book he could find on the science of accounting. But there was a danger of becoming narrowed to figures. Law was a subject entirely different and valuable.
THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL TO STUDY LAW.
"I want to be a lawyer," he told the registrar at the Kansas City School of Law.
"Have you a high school education?" he was asked.
"It is required if you graduate from this school or expect to be admitted to the bar."
"I'll get that, too," said the square-faced young man with light eyebrows.
At the end of two years he had completed the high school course under Professor Rush of Northeast high school. At the same time he was registered as a lawyer in Jackson County. The first months of the law course had been so hard that he had quit. But he had gone back. From then on his grades were high. In two years he had held a regular job, read every book that he could find on accounting, got a high school education and became a lawyer. Not one outside interest had deflected him from the course which, at 24, brought him to the turning point in his career.
AN INVESTIGATION WELL HANDLED.
In 1917 he was a partner in the firm of Smith & Brodie, certified public accountants, with an income around $350 a month. Obviously, with his tremendous capacity he should be a great accountant some day with an income of, we shall guess, $25,000 a year. And so it might have been except for the turning point.
Among the clients of Smith & Brodie was the U. S. Epperson Underwriting Company reciprocal insurers of lumber mills and plants. A sawmill near Jackson, Miss., had burned under circumstances which led Mr. Epperson to ask Smith & Brodie to send a competent man to investigate the origin of the fire. And they did; they sent Lynn.
At New Orleans, where he went to meet the insurance adjuster and to
look through the company's books, he found a letter from Mr. Epperson enumerating
the reasons which might have caused the owners to burn their mill. Lynn,
in making out his report, took particular care to answer each of Mr. Epperson’s
points in detail. The report was highly satisfactory.
A VACANCY WORTH MILLIONS
After he was again busy with his regular work in Kansas City he heard that Harry Thompson, general manager of the U. S. Epperson Company, had died Although he did not know it, a job that would make millions for the right man was open.
Two weeks later, Frederick A. Smith, the tall, dark partner in the firm of Smith & Brodie, stepped into Lynn's office. "Mr. Epperson wants to talk over that Mississippi report of loss with you," he said.
At the office in the R. A. Long building Mr. Epperson sat massively behind his desk. He was a bald man with a close clipped black mustache. Adjusting his noseglasses to look over the report, he said, "Mr. Thompson handled all my accounts. I am going to have to ask you to go over them for me and put everything in shape where I can find it."
That night, the big general offices in the R. A. Long building were quiet-----rows and rows of desks left in order. At one desk Lynn was at work, with Mr. Epperson standing near by watching him.
OFFERED A GENERAL MANAGER' S JOB
Then the voice of the older man broke the silence. "How old are you?" he asked irrelevantly.
"Twenty-four," said Lynn.
"I am up against it for a man to take Mr. Thompson's place." Mr. Epperson said. A little later he added as if he were talking to himself. "I wish you were not so young."
It was a night nearly a week later that he heard Mr. Epperson open a door behind him. The insurance man took a chair by Lynn's desk. After a few commonplaces he broached the important subject: "How would you like to take Mr. Thompson's place? I will pay you $5,000 a year."
Lynn hesitated. He had been expecting something of the kind, but he still did not know what to do. He thought it might be a good opportunity----better, perhaps, than his profession offered him. That he was standing on a diamond mine was not within the bounds of his imagination.
"I appreciate your confidence," he said, "but I don't know whether it would be right for me to leave Smith
Mr. Epperson barely smiled. "As an accountant you will be limited to what you can do for yourself. In business you can go as far as you can get others to work for you. There is no comparison between your chances in the two jobs.
For twenty years this young man had been building himself into a tremendous force and now he began to experience the great urge that comes to a man when he is about to take the place in the world he has made for himself. After talking it over with Smith and Brodie he chose the road to millions.
A few months passed and the president, Mr. Epperson, became ill, leaving
Lynn virtually in charge of underwriting companies with some 70 million
dollars of insurance in force. Now, at the age of 37, he has built to the
original business and added new companies until he has 300 million dollars
worth of insurance in force. His offices occupy nearly two floors of the
R. A. Long building, in addition to branches in Portland and Toronto.
PREPARATION THE MAIN THING.
In his private office, he stands behind a massive hand-carved desk. To reach him one walks over thirty feet of thick rugs.
He is short of stature: his square face is bronzed by five months of Florida sun. Unemotionally he smiles and says: "I believe that preparing for the turning point is more important than the chance itself. For six years, every evening, all my Sundays and any free hour that I had were spent in study."
Back in Archibald, where the father and mother are still living, the Gwinns and the Iveys and the Chapmans all say he beats anything they have ever seen this side of Baton Rouge.
June 16, 1929