At Thompson's Spa, Inc. (established 1882) in Boston, things seldom change. The original Washington Street restaurant has never moved from its site in a dingy brick building opposite the equally venerable Boston Globe. Many a staid Bostonian (like onetime customer Calvin Coolidge) has eaten his fish chowder and apple pie a»; che same counter for 30 years, served every day by the same waitress.
Last week conservative old Thompson's got a new owner, the young, fast-growing Sheraton Corp., owner of a $22 million hotel chain. Sheraton paid $1,000,000 for a controlling interest (51%) in Thompson's ten-restaurant chain.
The restaurant business was something new for Sheraton. But new things were the stock in trade of Sheraton Corp.'s two smart bosses: President Ernest Henderson, 49, and Vice President & Treasurer Robert Lowell Moore, 50, partners since they were roommates at Harvard (and ate at the Washington Thompson's Spa).
From Fords to Field Glasses. Their first new venture, while still in college, was car building. A Cambridge company was buying new Ford cars, discarding the bodies, and building the chassis into trucks. Henderson & Moore bought the bodies, put them on old Ford chassis. The finished products looked like new cars, sold at a profit of $145 each.
In 1918, the young partners went off to war. They brought back some German field glasses, and found Americans anxious to buy them. They promptly imported 100,000 pairs, along with flashlights, automatic pencils, and pedigreed German police dogs. They went into the radio business. Good sets were then selling for $240, but radio parts were cheap. With 10¢store parts, they assembled their own sets, sold them for $89.50. By 1925, their World Radio Corp. had 30 stores in New England, was taking in a comfortable $1,000,000 a year.
From Radios to Real Estate. During the depression Henderson & Moore got into another new thingreal estate. With $10,000 worth of World Radio stock as capital, they bought control of Beacon Participations Inc., an investment-trust, used its cash to buy property cheap. In five years they controlled $30,000,000 worth of real estate, including Cambridge's Hotel Continental, which they bought at auction. They liked this taste of the hotel business. So in 1939 they bought control of Boston's swank Copley Plaza and Sheraton, both of which were losing money. Henderson admitted that he was not an expert on the hotel business, allowed his managers almost complete freedom. Both hotels, aided by the burgeoning war boom, housing shortages, lost no time moving into the black.
Once Henderson & Moore saw that they could make money in the hotel business, there was no stopping them. Well-heeled from their radio and hotel ventures, they kept adding to their string; Sheraton Corp. now owns 24 hotels. Moore & Henderson still control this empire through their 90% interest in World Radio, which owns 20% of Sheraton Corp. stock. Last year Sheraton Corp.'s net profits were $700,000.