CORPORATIONS: Cuneo Steps In


CORPORATIONS: Cuneo Steps In

For months, National Tea Co., sixth largest U.S. retail grocery chain, had
squirmed under the critical gaze of one of its new stockholders. The critic:
John F. Cuneo, cold-eyed, round-faced owner of The Cuneo Press, Inc.,
biggest U.S. printers as well as “angel” of Liberty and a string of other
magazines. Last fall, Stockholder Cuneo sent his own auditors poring through
National's books to find out why it made only $332,000 in 1943 on sales
of $92,000,000. Last month he fired off a letter to National
stockholders giving his findings: bad management, antiquated selling
methods and high salaries to National Tea's executives. Last week Cuneo won his war. John McKinlay, onetime president of
Marshall Field & Co., who has run National Tea for the last six years,
resigned. As part of the peace treaty, Cuneo won control of National's
board of directors. Backed by his print shop millions, he had become a
potent new figure in the chain-store field. Competition Helps. John Cuneo is still little more than a name to retail
merchants, is little better known to most Chicagoans. He dodges
publicity, keeps the lid on any airing of his business affairs. Chicago-born Mr. Cuneo went to Yale University, but left after an
impatient two years to start in business. With $10,000 given him by
his father, he bought up a small bookbinding shop, changed the name to
John F. Cuneo Co., which now controls Cuneo Press. He knew little about
printing, but plenty about selling. His big chance came shortly after World War I. Sears, Roebuck, which had
been printing its own catalogue, got fed up with the job. John Cuneo
landed the fat contract. Overnight, it turned his bookbindery into a
big business. Cuneo went right on expanding, although he no longer does
the bulk of Sears printing. Tallyho. He took over a string of movie magazines which had run up big
printing bills , watched them move into the
black; he set up Consolidated Book Publishers to print cheap Bibles and
encyclopedias, branched out into country banking, bought up Chicago
real estate. When Liberty magazine was floundering, he took it over
from Macfadden, added it to his string. In 1937, when the late Samuel Insull's famed Hawthorn-Mellody Farms went
on the block, complete with an Italian villa, John Cuneo plunked out
$752,000 for them. In short order, they became Chicago's third largest
supplier of milk. Now 59-year-old John Cuneo spends much of his time with his family on
his farms, where he raises hackney ponies, Palominos and Suffolks,
drives his friends about in a tallyho on holidays. Into the Red. Cuneo's speculative eye had been fixed on National Tea for
months before he decided to get into the grocery business. Founded by
an immigrant, the late George S. Rasmussen, National Tea ran into
difficulties not many years after he left the company to his sons,
George S. Jr. and Robert V., and went home to Denmark. By 1937,
National Tea was in the red by $1,365,280. McKinlay was brought in to
try to pull it out, though Robert stayed on as president.

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