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L. William "Bill" McNutt, Jr.
Navarro County, Texas


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Retired Collin Street Bakery president and chairman L. William (Bill) McNutt Jr.
will be inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame Wednesday in
Dallas. Daily Sun photo/KIRK SIDES

 

10/13/2002 McNutt receives honor: sweet rewards for former Collin Street Bakery president

By RAYMOND LINEX II/Daily Sun Staff

In all his years helping establish the Collin Street Bakery as one of the sweetest company names to roll off taste buds anywhere, L. William (Bill) McNutt, Jr. has introduced a number of grand ideas. Killing the elevator was not one of them.

"As I get older, I regret that decision every time I walk up those stairs," he said.

That's because McNutt, who won't give his age but played football at Corsicana High for legendary coach Johnny Pierce ('25 to '41), still goes to work each day, taking those steps to his second floor office just as he did thousands of times before the previous four decades.

Wednesday in Dallas, McNutt will be inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame, joining the likes of former President George Bush, former governors Bill Clements and Dolph Briscoe Jr. and fellow entrepreneurs Ross Perot and Michael Dell.

In the mid-'60s, when plans were being made for the current building, it was Bill Jr. who suggested one way to trim from an overbudget project would be the elimination of the proposed elevator. Had he only known how lucrative a future idea -- marketing this small town's icon internationally -- would have been, he would have probably left the elevator plans alone.

Today, Collin Street Bakery does more than $30 million in sales, more than 20 percent of that coming from abroad, McNutt said. It's marquee item remains the Deluxe Fruitcake, "A Christmas favorite since 1896 ..." sales brochures proclaim.

"Since 1934 we've used the same design on the lid of our fruitcake cans; nobody ever throws them away," he said. "There are millions and millions of them all around the world as a continual reminder. I don't care where you go on Earth, if you say Corsicana often enough and loud enough somebody's going to say, 'That's where the fruitcake comes from.'

"I'm sure it's the most popular Christmas cake on Earth."

McNutt graduated from CHS and Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville and served in the Army in WWII, all before graduating from Vanderbilt University.

After college, he began working at a family-owned Dr Pepper bottling company in Tennessee, later owning it.

Then, he agonized over the toughest decision of his life.

"It's the only time I ever had ulcers in my mouth," he said.

In July of 1958, McNutt decided to move his family to Corsicana and join the bakery. In 1967, he became the company's president, and in the late '60s and early '70s began to ponder the idea of marketing worldwide. Deluxe Fruitcakes were already being sold overseas without promotion.

That initiative led the bakery to grow from sales of about 300,000 pounds of goods to more than 4 million today. The company ships to 196 countries, everywhere but Iran and Cuba, where mail service is not available, McNutt said.

As for today, McNutt, who has turned the reins of the company over to son Bob, logs about five hours a day in the office.

His role is not the same. "Cheerleader," he said, adding, "A cheerleader with veto power."

But he spent thousands of hours making the family business a respected worldwide bakery, one that owns many of its own ingredient producers.

"My wife Josephine is the most supportive wife you could ever have," McNutt said. "She never complained. When we came over and I had the long hours for a number of years, she never complained."

Honors have been plenty. Bush, whom McNutt called a good friend, presented him with the United States Commerce Department E award for excellence in exporting in 1981.

Three times the bakery has been awarded gold medals by Monde Selection of Geneva, Switzerland for the Deluxe. In 1996, the Institute for Family Business at Baylor University named the bakery the Outstanding Family Business of the Year, and the New York Gourmet Society recognized the bakery for excellence.

Another source of pride for McNutt is the bakery's Corsicana shop, which, nestled underneath his office, recorded 250,000 transactions, he said. Each transaction, the bakery figures, represents two and a half visitors to the shop.

"It's a weekend destination," he said.

McNutt said the secret of the bakery's success is a fantastic product -- the Deluxe's recipe's been the same for decades -- backed by good service and dedicated employees.

"We have fantastic people," he said. "They are the backbone."

McNutt said in his acceptance speech Wednesday he will take all the credit, all of two percent. It's a people business, he said.

More evidence of that success can be found all over the world, where Deluxe fruitcake tins pop up in the strangest of places. While once attending the Super Bowl in Detroit, McNutt visited a historic house and saw one of the tins. It was used to house receipts.

While boating near the Bahamas, McNutt pulled up to a small, remote island inhabited by an heir to the Johnson Wax fortune, his wife and one child. An artist, Johnson gave McNutt a tour, one that included a journey through his shop. There, a Deluxe tin contained nuts and bolts.

"He said his daughter lived in Massachusetts and sent him one every year," McNutt said.

When his children attended SMU, he said, almost all the kids in the dormitory used a Deluxe tin for something.

"We ship an average now of a million and half (tins) a year," McNutt said. "They're in so many places you wouldn't believe it."

McNutt certainly never would have back in the days when cutting the elevator was necessary. He never envisioned the bakery becoming such big business, that it would put Corsicana on the world map.

Working those long hours, meeting presidents and movie stars and attending Super Bowls and Rose Bowls never drove him. He never gave the Texas Business Hall of Fame much thought.

"I was very surprised" by the Hall of Fame nod, he said. "A couple of fellows I didn't know showed up to see me. I said, 'I hope they're not process servers.' They were here to tell me of the honor; it was surprising and honestly appreciated.

"There are a lot of great Texans who have been honored in this way."

xxx

Raymond Linex II may be contacted via e-mail at rlinex@corsicanadailysun.com

 


 

10/17/2002 Hall welcomes fruitcake king: McNutt Jr. graciously takes place in Texas' business history

By RAYMOND LINEX II/Daily Sun Staff

DALLAS -- With a pinch of glitz, a smidgen of humor and sack full of compassion and humility, Corsicana's Bill McNutt Jr., retired president and chairman of Collin Street Bakery, joined Texas' finest businessmen and women Wednesday night.

Amongst family and friends and 800 other guests at the Hyatt Regency, McNutt took his place along with four other honorees for induction into the Texas Business Hall of Fame, the 20th class to do so. McNutt, whose international marketing vision made the Deluxe fruitcake and its home household names worldwide, earned the distinction of being the only non-oil and gas or concrete guru so honored.

"I'm grateful, I'm thankful, but I probably don't deserve this," McNutt said, "but I'm going to accept it."

The former Corsicana Tiger and faithful sports enthusiast often tickled the funny bone during a poignant acceptance speech in which he thanked everyone from his dad Lee and wife Josephine to the employees of the bakery, who equally bore a measure of credit for the success of the community's 106-year-old establishment, he said.

Personally, McNutt said, a simple business philosophy had paved his way to success.

"I have an open door policy," he said. "My office has a glass wall and the door is open at all times."

McNutt was joined by fellow inductees William E. Greehey of San Antonio, chairman and CEO of Valero Energy Corporation; Louis A. Beecherl Jr. of Dallas, retired chairman and chief executive of Texas Oil and Gas; Robert J. "Bob" Allison Jr., chairman of the board of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation; and Robert D. "Bob" Rogers, CEO of Texas Industries, Inc., which has a plant in Streetman.

The black-tie event drew a number of past honorees, including McNutt friend Lamar Hunt, and paid tribute to 14 scholarship winners, the future of Texas business, master of ceremonies Tony Brigmon said. Each 2002 inductee received a well-deserved portion of the event's time, first by way of a highlight video complete with interviews of friends, family and business associates, and secondly through ample time to deliver some well-crafted speeches, others straight-from-the-hip. Beecherl introduced all eight of his children, but stopped short of naming all 30 grandchildren.

McNutt's video opened with the line, you'll never "hear a more delicious tale." Bob McNutt, Bill's son and current bakery president, followed by saying his dad was a very good people person, and later would add Bill's "only set back was that I was the third child, and he had to wait that long to get a superstar."

McNutt, once he was given screen time, explained the overseas shipping of the Deluxe fruitcake actually began in 1906, when members of the Ringling Brothers circus stayed atop the bakery, and sent fruitcakes to friends as Christmas gifts. Shipping cakes overseas went into overdrive when McNutt, who joined the bakery in 1958 and became president in 1967, began exploring marketing overseas in the late '60s and early '70s and business went from 300,000 pounds shipped a year to 4 million.

"He was just a young man at that time, but he had a lot of knowledge," 67-year bakery employee Maurice Pollack said.

Employee Linda Michelle said McNutt made every employee "feel special," and Bob closed the segment with another trademark McNutt line: "There's just a certain time in your life when you're ready for a fruitcake."

McNutt then took his turn on stage, the fourth of five, for the final step on his way to Texas business lore.

"I've traveled a windy path to this podium," he said, "... but always with the Collin Street Bakery as a base."

The Texas Business Hall of Fame is celebrating its 20th year. Located in Houston, it has more than 120 members.

Raymond Linex II may be contacted via e-mail at rlinex@corsicanadailysun.com

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Reprinted with permission of the Corsicana Daily Sun
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