The University of Utah's School of Business will add David Eccles to its name Monday in tribute to the poor Mormon immigrant from Scotland who became Utah's first self-made millionaire.
Last spring, Emma Eccles Jones, 93, the last surviving child of the 21 children from the two families of polygamist David Eccles, bequeathed $15 million to the U. business school - one of the largest single donations ever given to a business school in the nation. The announcement came shortly after Jones' death.Her gift in memory of her father had a purpose. Her nephew, Spencer F. Eccles, a grandson of David Eccles, said Jones wanted to ensure that the accomplishments of David Eccles in building Utah and the West didn't fade from memory.
"To her," said Spencer Eccles, chairman of First Security Corp., "David Eccles epitomized what could be done through individual initiative under our free enterprise, capitalistic system of government."
She wanted her father to shine as an example "not only to university students but for everyone interested in opportunity in America," Eccles said.
Opportunity is about all that David Eccles had in the beginning.
The son of William Eccles, a blind woodworker, and Sarah Hutchinson Eccles, second son David began working at age 6 to help his family eke out a living. According to the 1974 biography, "David Eccles: Pioneer Western Industrialist," by Leonard J. Arrington, young David was the family peddler, who sold resin sticks, along with kitchen utensils made by his father on a lathe, in the streets of Glasgow, Scotland.
At 11, David expanded his territory, using a small burro to peddle in neighboring Scottish towns.
Because he was needed to help support the family, Eccles had had only a few months of formal schooling by the time he was 14. Later, in Utah, he attended Professor Louis F. Moench's Ogden school for two terms because he wanted to sharpen his ability with numbers and figures.
Despite this meager formal education, David Eccles rose to the heights of the business world and later was a trustee of the Weber Academy, now Weber State University.
W. G. Whitney, Deseret News editor, wrote of Eccles in 1912 that despite his lack of knowledge of the technical points of bookkeeping, "his ability to analyze a ponderous and intricate financial statement, detecting its strong and weak points and reducing it to a plain A-B-C proposition, was marvelous."
In 1863, when David was 14, the Eccles family, which had converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, emigrated to Utah. Young David climbed the hills around Ogden and cut maple logs. His father made potato mashers, rolling pins and other wooden utensils for the ambitious David to sell in Ogden and its surrounding towns as he had in Scotland.
His family, unable to make a sufficient living in Ogden, moved for two years to timber-rich Oregon, where David worked in the timber camps. He also worked as a wood chopper in a sawmill near Ogden.
Back in Utah, he bought a team of oxen and opened his own logging and wood-cutting business. According to the Arrington biography, the yoked oxen fell down a steep incline, breaking their necks and subsequently dying. At the setback, Eccles sat down and cried, but he didn't give up. He rented another oxen team and delivered the load on time.
Using profits made from this business, he became part owner in a sawmill operation by 1873. He later bought out his partners and invested in two more mills. Then he gradually added the Oregon Lumber Co., railroads to move lumber to the mills and markets, the sugar factories that became Amalgamated Sugar Co., banks and other businesses.
Traveling the path to success, Eccles operated in a manner unknown in today's business world. Unlike the Donald Trumps of the 1990's, who use debt and leverage to build empires, Eccles remained debt free, investing profits to build his businesses.
The entrepreneur embodied the Scottish traits of thrift and self-reliance and had an oft-quoted phrase, "Never let a dollar sit idle," Arrington wrote.
But he really believed that the business itself, not money-making, should be the focus of success. "The trouble with people is that they too often work for only money, " he is quoted in the Arrington biography. "Some work so hard to get it they become rascals, and the penitentiaries are filled with them."
David Eccles would stand out in today's business world for other reasons. He never took a salary but lived on the dividends from his companies, never had the majority control of his business entities and "brought his friends into the businesses as part owners and to share in his success," said his grandson, Spencer Eccles.
The many-facted David Eccles had other solid characteristics that served the businessman well - industry, responsibility, initiative, honesty, determination and a keen memory. In his case, it was not a cliche to say his word was his bond.
"All those human characteristics match very nicely with business requirements in any age," Spencer Eccles commented.
An unpretentious man, David Eccles preferred the company of ordinary people, often socializing with other Scottish immigrants and his employees. "He was the same man with the day laborer as with the millionaire. There was nothing put on about him," said Heber J. Grant, his business associate who later became an LDS Church president.
On Dec. 5, 1912, Eccles collapsed on a Salt Lake City street after rushing to catch the Ogden train. He was pronounced dead of heart failure at a local hospital. He was 63.
At the time of his death 79 years ago, according to Arrington, there was much speculation about his wealth. Estimates ranged from $6 million to $25 million. There was no dispute, however, that the once-poor Scottish immigrant had died the richest man in Utah.
Rites on Monday
The University of Utah will officially dedicate the David Eccles School of Business on Monday.
Richard K. Davidson, chairman and chief executive officer of Union Pacific Railroad Co., Omaha, Neb., will deliver the first annual Spencer Fox Eccles Convocation before the dedication. It will be held at 10 a.m. in the Mark Greene Hall, followed by the 11:15 a.m. dedication on the plaza north of the Kendall D. Garff building.
Accomplishments of David Eccles
At the time of his death in 1912, David Eccles was president of 17 industrial corporations and seven banks. He was on the boards of 35 industrial corporations and 13 banks. Among accomplishments in his career, he:
- Promoted sugar companies in Ogden, Logan and LeGrande, Ore. He later consolidated all operations under the name of Amalgamated Sugar Co. It was acquired by private investors in 1982.
- Was instrumental in the organization of the Oregon Lumber Co. Among his other lumber firms was Eccles Lumber Co., which later emerged as Anderson Lumber Co.
- Founded Utah Construction Co., which later became Utah International Inc. The company merged with General Electric in the mid-1970s.
- Was a director of Commercial National Bank of Ogden and also an official of First National and Ogden Savings banks, which were predecessors of First Security Corp.