Ralph Reed

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Ralph Reed

Ralph Reed

Ralph Reed has always been a leader. At high school he was captain of the football team, president of his class, and first-honour man. Determined to get a college education, he took a job in Philadelphia and went to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania at night, where again he was elected class president. He received his degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1915. Reed came to American Express in 1919 as assistant to the comptroller. But Ralph Reed was not cut out to be an assistant for long, and he quickly rose to a key executive position in the company. When President Frederick P. Small was made chairman of the Executive Committee on January 4, 1944, Reed was elected president of the American Express Company. He was the unanimous choice, not only because of his drive and ability, but because he can command the loyalty of his associates.

The president of American Express is the hardest-working man in the company. One official humorously remarked, "Ralph dims our ambition, for we realize that if we get to be president we will have to work fourteen or more hours a days instead of just ten, as most of us do now.

Actually, Reed puts in more than fourteen hours a day working for the company. He is at his office at eight o'clock every morning, and he leaves at six or seven with a portfolio full of papers to work on at home. When he reaches his apartment at the Park Lane Hotel, he ordinarily just has time to dress for some function where attendance is necessitated by his position, or he may be entertaining a group of industrialists at cocktails and dinner. In either event, he is apt to excuse himself around eleven and go home to begin the evening's work, which usually lasts until one or two o'clock in the morning.

Reed is a friendly man who likes to meet people. Even in his social life he is working for American Express. People like him, and his friends are literally numbered by the thousands. He knows many of the leaders of American life, including General Eisenhower, with whom he frequently plays golf, and most of the great industrialists. He likes men in public life, and partisanship plays no part in his choice of friends - he is on intimate terms with both Republican Governor Dewey and with Attorney General McGrath, the former Democratic National Chairman.

At least once a year Reed makes an extensive trip, sometimes to Europe, sometimes to other parts of the world, inspecting American Express offices, getting firsthand information about local problems, and lifting the morale of personnel abroad by his contagious enthusiasm.

On a trip abroad in 1948 Reed learned that he was to be honoured for his services to France by the French Government. At an impressive ceremony in Paris attended by Mrs. Reed, many of the leaders of France, and American Express's Vice-President Harry Hill, Monsieur Christian Pineau of the French Ministry presented Reed with the Legion of Honour.

Everywhere he goes Reed sings the praises of American Express, for it is his life's work and he is full of the subject. He knows an amazing amount about the detailed working of the organization. He scrutinizes all the phases of its complex business and personally directs them. The agenda of a typical morning conference with senior officials shows the extent to which Reed follows details:

1.Discuss investment of surplus funds.

2.Replacement for manager at Johannesburg who is ill.

3. Plan for altering the premises at Rio.

4.Theft of Travellers Cheques from a Pennsylvania bank.

5.What balance to keep in banks and what to invest.

6.Special arrangements for Caronia cruise.

Reed's ears are always receptive to suggestions or complaints from the lower echelons, and when a problem arises he goes down to the man on the spot. Thus he gets firsthand information on which to base decisions.

From this it may be seen that hardly anything is done around the American Express Company without its president's knowledge. Only an extraordinary brain could cope with such a mass of facts and figures, and then only if carefully disciplined. Reed makes it a point to arrive at his desk every morning with a clear mind. No debris of yesterday's problems is allowed to clutter it up. Decisions once made are dismissed from it, for he never looks back, but keeps his eyes fixed on the future.

And the future looks bright to him. "I want American Express to be the greatest service organization in the world, and the soundest financially," he says, "and my sights are set accordingly. While we must know our limitations and not expand beyond our capabilities at any given time, we must be alert to seize our opportunities. That is why we are opening offices in Tel Aviv and Saudi Arabia, Tripoli, Oberammergau, and Okinawa this year.

"I do not think we should be scared into inactivity by the state of the world - for example, Korea - though we should be ready to draw in our horns if conditions make it advisable.

"With that in mind, we are going ahead. I have around me a staff of men who are full of vigour and enthusiasm, who will help us to realize our potential. And I believe that American Express has not nearly reached its goal in the possibilities of expansion and service.

The results of this sort of thinking are shown by the fact that 1950 is to date the biggest year the American Express Company has had in the century of its existence.


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The American Express Headquarters is based in Manhatten in New York, with over seven hundred people work there, handling millions of items every year. Though American Express managers abroad must have a great deal of independent authority to meet the emergencies of the moment - also the courage to use it - the home office keeps a careful check on the operations of all its offices and bureaus, many of which report their financial transactions every day. These reports provide officials of American Express with a daily record of the company's world-wide operations and services.

The headquarters is also a clearinghouse for information on travel conditions, passenger and freight rates, and a great mass of detailed data on customs, laws, economic and political conditions in the twenty-eight countries in which American Express operates. The reports are summarized and sent out to the foreign and domestic offices of the company, so that a clerk in Dallas or Singapore can... see: HEADQUARTERS


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