Created in 1988 by Junior Achievement of the Central Carolinas, Inc., the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame recognizes men and women who have made a significant contribution to the economic well-being of their firm, their industry and the state.
Recommended by a committee from North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, inductees to the Hall of Fame must be either retired from their business or at least 70 years old at the time of selection. Laureates also are recognized for their outstanding community contributions.
Wayland H. Cato Jr.,
Ever the Entrepreneur
Vision, perseverance and devotion to family are the attributes that best define Wayland H. Cato Jr. and go farthest toward explaining his exceptional success at building the The Cato Corporation’s women’s apparel retail chain. So says his daughter Clarice Cato Goodyear, who is her father’s spokesperson. Goodyear, who lives in Charlotte, is “very close” to her father, with whom she has collaborated over many years on family and business issues.
Other attributes that have contributed mightily to the success of Cato Jr. are a sincere interest in people and a strong proclivity to give back to communities in which he resides and where the corporation does business.
Wayland H. Cato Jr., along with his father, Wayland H. Cato Sr. (1893-1974), and brother, Edgar T. Cato, founded the company in 1946, shortly before the family moved to Charlotte from Augusta, Georgia. Cato Sr. had managed stores in Georgia and South Carolina for United Merchants and Manufacturers, so the company focused, at first, on opening Cato stores in small towns like Sumter and Mullins, S.C. Within two years of starting the company, the Cato family was running a chain of seven stores. A year later, the company passed $1 million in sales. Today, the company has in excess of $731.8 million in revenues.
In January 2004, after 58 years of leadership, Cato Jr. retired from the company and became chairman emeritus. John Cato, one of his five sons, is now chairman, president and chief executive.
Even as a very young man, Goodyear says, her father Cato Jr. had visions of a successful business and a large, cohesive family, and those visions were intertwined. Cato Jr. had eight children, one of whom died a few months after birth, and now has seven living children and six grandchildren.
Goodyear says her father felt that “a prosperous company would be the platform for success for his children and grandchildren. The business and the family were, for him, joined in a single vision and he’s never deviated from that dual theme.”
In 1960, Cato Jr. became president and chief executive of the company; in 1970, the responsibility of chairman was added. The company has grown into a 28-state chain of more than 1,100 value-priced women’s fashion apparel stores, largely because, Goodyear says, her father drew other people to him who supported him and helped implement his vision.
“Dad has this incredible talent – it’s a gift – for getting other people to say, ‘Wow, let me be a part of what you’re doing,’” Goodyear says.
Through the years, perhaps perseverance has been most critical to Cato Jr.’s success, his daughter says. “That’s the core of who he is.” It’s a good thing, too, Goodyear says. “Of the hundreds of non-metropolitan women’s budget apparel chains that were started after World War II, The Cato Corporation is the only survivor,” Goodyear explains. “As Dad says, ‘It’s a business of change and we have had to keep re-inventing ourselves, redefining our niche.’”
Her father has always been a strong advocate of America’s enlightened capitalism, she says. Additionally, “He’s fundamentally an optimist,” Goodyear says.
In 1992, Cato Jr. bought and restored a historic home in Charleston and in 1998 married Marion Rivers Ravenel of that historic city. For more than a decade, he has been deeply engaged in that community’s cultural and civic life.
At 81, Cato Jr.’s honors and awards continue to mount, although he never focused on achieving recognition or winning awards, Goodyear says.
In 2001, Cato Jr. began acquiring land in north-central Wyoming to develop a large working cattle ranch. As their headquarters, he and Marion have restored the main dwelling and outbuildings of an 1876 ranch near Sheridan.
“He’s fulfilling another life-long dream,” Goodyear says. “As a guy who plans in terms of profit and loss statements and cash flows, Dad projects that the operation will be on track and performing satisfactorily in three years, at which time he’ll be 84.”
Pete Sloan, Wealth of Appreciation
Charlotte native A.F. “Pete” Sloan, retired chairman and president of Charlotte-based Lance, Inc., is the other Charlotte business leader being inducted into the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame. Sloan remains active on various boards and enjoys travel. He reminisces about his career in a conference room at Lance headquarters in south Charlotte.
It wasn’t for the money that Sloan joined Lance at age 25. He started at $65 a week. But he liked the company’s emphasis on good relationships with its employees.
That was 1954. Sloan worked his way up through manufacturing, soaking up the company culture and building on it. Company founders Philip Lance and Salem Van Every had instituted values such as hard work and loyalty and son Philip Van Every had maintained them.
“I just tried to perpetuate that culture with an appreciation of people,” Sloan says. “We all worked hard but expected results and, fortunately, we got them.”
Sloan emphasized working smart. “We took a lot of pride in quality products and service. Anybody can make a cookie or cracker, but you want to make one that’s better. And you want to give better service.”
Sloan’s biggest surprise was when he was promoted from assistant vice president of manufacturing to executive vice president. “I had no aspirations for that. That was the road you took to become president and chairman.”
Sure enough, Sloan assumed those titles in 1976. He kept them until his retirement in 1991.
Sloan guided the company when growth of competition was enormous. He remembers when a stop at a gasoline station almost automatically meant buying a soft drink and a package of Lance crackers. But large companies combined gasoline with convenience stores, which brought scores of snack choices.
“We actually compete for appetite,” says Sloan, explaining why he emphasized quality. It worked. Lance’s market capital was $121 million when he took the top spot and by 1990 it had grown to $659 million.
“The only way to generate wealth is to make something,” he says. “You put some raw material, a little capital and labor with it and you make it worth a lot more than it was to start with. You’ve generated some wealth.” Joining Cato Jr. and Sloan in the N.C. Business Hall of Fame class of 2004 is furniture industry icon Paul Broyhill of Lenoir and Ron Doggett of Raleigh, who founded GoodMark Foods, Inc. and revived the Slim Jim snack brand. All four will be inducted at the 2004 dinner ceremony for the Hall of Fame in Charlotte on November 10, 2004, at the Westin Hotel.