If you opened this Preface, you must have an interest in, or a curiosity about, the history of A.G. Becker & Co. Let us, thus, expose you to two documents which were used in 1973 to orient new employees to the firm’s history, and to some extent, were used even in the 1950s. This will be a good general orientation.
The first document captures excerpts from an internal publication prepared in 1973 by the firm's Communications Department, as part of Becker’s 80th birthday celebration. The "A.G. Becker Album" was enthusiastically received throughout the organization. The publication reminded each employee of the great inheritance enjoyed by all, as well as the extent to which the organization had grown over 80 years. The excerpts quoted in “AGB 80" were drawn from various archival sources including a speech given by Howell Murray in the late 1950s, just a few years before his death.
The speech by Howie Murray makes up the second document. You will enjoy the delightful, "folksy" tone of Howie Murray's memories. This speech must have been delivered within the organization in the 1956-58 period, perhaps to a new class of sales trainees. The author has excerpted, for better readability, the parts of Howie's speech which relate to this early period of Becker history.
As will be described later, Howie Murray joined the firm in 1915. He knew Mr. Becker first hand and he worked closely with him in the firm's commercial paper business for 10 years before his death. Howie idolized Mr. Becker, as did everyone else who knew him.
The author quite well remembers Howell Murray, having joined the firm in the fall of 1958. He was a warm, beaming, enthusiastic, and much loved elder in the Chicago office. He was the general overseer of Becker's commercial paper business, a successful investment banker, widely admired, and quite active in the Chicago and Midwest business communities. He was especially remembered for his service to the Ravinia Association. You will learn more about Howie later.
The broad historic sweep of these two documents provides a very good framework for the more detailed Chronicle which you will soon read, including detailed postings of documents, photos, and other material from the archives. In that process, some small inaccuracies in the two documents will come to light and be corrected. However, these documents provide an excellent initiation to the firm's early roots and culture. They describe how, quite early, the firm was dedicated to certain basic ethical principles - building an organization made up of exceptional people, developing and expanding organizational leadership, and steadily pursuing strategic diversification.
Along with the above documents, in order best to understand the events leading to the founding of A.G. Becker & Co., you are encouraged to learn about some unique Chicago-based predecessors and mentors to the young Abe Becker – R.K. Swift and Henry Greenebaum , as well as economic up and downs which ended in a period of great economic and financial stress at the local and national level. It’s helpful to be reminded of the despair and distress that was taking place on both LaSalle and Wall Street in 1893, in contrast to the glamour and gaiety of the World's Fair in Hyde Park, and more broadly, the tremendous and rapid technological advances and industrial development the nation was experiencing, despite occasional setbacks.
The content of these three appendices is helpful in better understanding the challenges and opportunities young Becker faced. More broadly, our young entrepreneur was carrying on, and expanding in creative ways, the short term financing practices inherent to the U.S. commercial paper market. These practices, inherited from Europe, were by the 1890s well established among a wide range of borrowers, brokers, banks, and other investors in America's eastern states. However, the practices were less developed in many rapidly developing communities in the Midwest, Pacific Coast, and Southwest.
You are strongly encouraged to read the above four Appendices, and then the Background, before moving on to the Chronicle of The Birth, Life, and Death of A.G. Becker & Co.