Business: Long Distance

In July 1906, Walter Sherman Gifford, then 21 and two years out of Harvard, wrote his father the glad news of his promotion to assistant secretary & treasurer of Western Electric Co. Salary: $24 a week. Snapped the elder Gifford, a fiercely independent Yankee lumberman: "Any damn fool can make a success in a corporation."

But fact-minded Walter Gifford never placed any reliance on fool's luck. He probed into Western Electric's rule-of-thumb business methods, impressed his bosses by outlining new accounting and manufacturing ideas on easily understood charts. When American Telephone & Telegraph Co., owner of Western Electric, wanted to expand in...