A man who started a business in Salina which grew into one of the largest of its kind in the world is one of the newest members of the Kansas Business Hall of Fame.
The late Henry David Lee and H. Lee Scott, Jr. were recognized at the Kansas Business Hall of Fame induction ceremony during the 47th annual Team Kansas Awards Banquet at Kansas State University Alumni Center in Manhattan.
Along with the KBHF induction during the Team Kansas Annual Awards Banquet, the Kansas Silver Stirrup Award, Governor’s Exporter of the Year Award, and Governor’s Award of Excellence were presented.
The ceremony marks the 31st year of inductions into the Kansas Business Hall of Fame, located at Emporia State University in the School of Business’ Cremer Hall. Business leaders selected for the KBHF are widely known for their contributions to Kansas and are recognized as role models. The KBHF recognizes historical contributors and present-day leaders who have made private enterprise work in Kansas and throughout the country.
Henry David Lee
Businessman, Entrepreneur, Innovator
Henry David Lee (December 9, 1849 – March 15, 1928) was famously known for his wide range of business ventures. He paid great attention to his customers’ needs and worked diligently with his team to respond effectively to the demanding markets.
His humble beginnings began as a hotel clerk in Galion, Ohio. He later moved into the real estate business and saved enough money to seize other opportunities, always keeping an eye out for new business ideas. His next path led him to purchase an oil company (Central Oil Co. of Galion). The company was very successful. In 1889, for health reasons, Lee decided to move to Salina, Kansas, and opened H.D. Lee Mercantile Co. His company dominated the food distribution chain between Kansas City and Denver. This is where his most successful business was founded. Lee was frustrated with his work-wear suppliers. He didn’t feel they were reliable or consistent when it came to delivering supplies. After dealing with this for some time, he decided to take it into his own hands and fix the problem. Lee was confident that he could produce his own work- wear line in house, and not only produce it, but excel and make work wear better for everyone.
A short year later Lee released his “Union-All Work” jumpsuit to the public. It quickly caught everyone’s attention and became a staple in American households. From this point on, Lee revolutionized denim. He added a front zipper and two pockets for easy access and storage, thus paving the way for the denim industry and becoming a staple in all jeans.
He constructed the factory in Kansas City; it has been home to Lee for 100 years. Since its first products were released, Lee has always continued to remain focused on its craftsmanship. Lee prides itself on listening to customer demands and innovates all products to make life a little bit easier for its consumers.
Henry David Lee built a strong foundation for Lee to prosper and become the nation’s #1 manufacturer of work clothes. Lee has him to thank for the over 100-year life of the company.
H. Lee Scott, Jr.
H. Lee Scott, Jr. (“Lee”) was born in 1949 and raised in Baxter Springs, a town proudly proclaimed as the “First Cowtown in Kansas.” The son of a gas station owner, Scott graduated from Baxter Springs High School in 1967 and continued his education at Pittsburg State University in southeast Kansas. It was during this time in Pittsburg that Scott would meet his future wife, Linda Aldridge, a native of Kansas City. While attending Pittsburg State, Scott, Linda, and their infant son lived in the Lone Star Trailer Court, with Scott working at the McNally’s manufacturing plant and on campus in order to make ends meet. It is this same, Kansas-born work ethic, drive, and dedication to core values that would serve Lee Scott so well later in his career.
After graduating from Pittsburg State in 1971 with a B.S. in Business, Scott gained employment in nearby Springdale, Arkansas, with Yellow Freight, one of the most rapidly expanding freight companies in the country at that time. As a salesperson and manager with Yellow Freight, Scott had his first encounter with Wal-Mart and David Glass, who would later become CEO of Wal-Mart and Chief Executive Officer of the Kansas City Royals. Scott was sent by Yellow Freight to collect an upaid $7,000 invoice and was subsequently offered a job by Glass. Staying true to his Kansas-born values of honesty and integrity, Scott responded to Glass by saying, “I may not be the smartest man who ever came into your office, but I’m not quitting a job with the fastest growing freight company in the nation to take a job with a company that can’t pay a $7,000 bill.” Fortunately, Mr. Glass was persistent and repeated the offer two years later. This time, Scott accepted, beginning an illustrious 25-year career with Wal-Mart.
After joining Wal-Mart as the Assistant Director of Transportation, Scott began to work his way up the corporate ladder, assuming the positions of Director of Transportation, Vice President of Transportation, Vice President of Distribution, and Senior Vice President of Logistics. In 1993, Scott was promoted to Executive Vice President of Logistics and became a member of Wal-Mart’s Executive Committee. Later, in 1999, he became an office board member of the retail giant. These accomplishments and honors were undoubtedly due to the same work ethic and Midwestern values that Scott observed at his father’s gas station in Baxter Springs and the same drive that provided for his family while residing at the Lone Star Trailer Courts in Pittsburg.
Lee Scott’s contributions to corporate development and improvement did not go unnoticed by Wal-Mart’s board. In January of 2003, he was named President and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, the largest company, by sales, in the history of the world. Perhaps even more impressively, Scott was just the third person chosen to lead the company, following only founder Sam Walton and David Glass, the same man who years earlier could not pay Wal-Mart’s $7,000 bill but offered Scott a job. As CEO, Scott made many contributions to corporate operations, human development, and environmental sustainability. During Scott’s time as CEO, company-wide sales increased faster than inventory levels, a testament to his professional expertise and management skills. Although Wal-Mart experienced solid growth and profits throughout Scott’s tenure as CEO, his contributions to renewable energy usage, minimum wage growth, and environmental sustainability are what truly set him apart as a CEO, leader, and Kansan. Evidence of this dedication to long-term sustainability is no more apparent than in his 2006 plan to invest $500 million dollars annually in technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at existing stores around the world by 20%. This same plan, endorsed by former Vice President Al Gore and countless other business leaders, shows Scott’s focus on how the world’s largest retailer could make the world a better place.
Following his formal retirement in 2009, Lee Scott continued to use his success in business by giving back to the area that was so instrumental in laying the foundation for his illustrious career. After Pittsburg State University received a $5 million donation from the Walton Foundation in honor of Scott’s dedication and service to Wal-Mart, the Scott family gave more than $2 million to create an endowment for the H. Lee Scott speaker series at Pitt State. This series of special events, entitled “An Examination of American Life,” is designed to bring highly prominent leaders across the public sphere to Kansas and to enhance the experiences of students at Pittsburg State and across Southeast Kansas. Standing on the stage of the Linda and Lee Scott Performance Hall in the fall of 2015, Scott personally introduced the inaugural speaker, former U.S. President Bill Clinton. This marked the first time that a former president had spoken at his alma mater.
In 2018, Scott received the Horatio Alger Award bestowed upon “admired leaders who have succeeded despite facing adversities, and who have remained committed to higher education and charitable efforts in their local communities.”
Lee Scott’s significant contributions, first through his corporate successes, and later, through his philanthropic generosity, have greatly benefited the people of Kansas and clearly show that he is an exemplary product of the Sunflower State.
For more information on the Kansas Business Hall of Fame and to read about all the past inductees, please visit http://www.ksbhf.org.