William Henry Belk
Hometown: Lancaster, South Carolina
Industry: Retail Stores
Born in 1862, as the son of a farmer, Belk overcame obstacles in life to later build a retail empire. His father was killed shortly after the civil war by Union soldiers looking for a gold mine that did not exist. After working at a dry goods store in Monroe, Belk decided to use his perseverance and background in retail to start his own venture. In 1888, at the age of 26, Belk opened his first retail store in Monroe. Using personal savings and $3000 worth of goods taken from another bankrupt store on consignment, he opened his doors. In less than a year he paid off his debts with interest and made a profit. He achieved great success by offering inexpensive goods for cash, instead of the prevalent credit system of his time. By 1891, the business had expanded and Belk’s brother John joined in the endeavor. Belk Brothers Company was created and continued to open stores in the Charlotte region. Today there are more than 200 Belk stores in the southeast and mid-Atlantic regions. The company is one of the last privately owned retail chains in the country. Belk managed his stores until his death in 1952 at the age of 89. His memory is honored by the legacy of philanthropy and community service continued by his family and the corporation he created.
Charles A. Cannon
Hometown: Concord, North Carolina
Charles Albert Cannon, the son of a textile mill owner, was born in 1892. After attending Fishburne Military Academy and Davidson College, Cannon entered the textile industry himself, achieving success as a manager, treasurer and secretary. When his father died in 1921, Cannon assumed the leadership of the Cannon manufacturing plants and consolidated them to one entity, The Cannon Mills Company. At the age of 29, he was one of the youngest industrial managers in the world. Often referred to as a marketing genius, Cannon used advertising, packaging, and trademark branding to catapult his company to national success. Cannon was also instrumental in establishing the American Cotton Manufacturers Association, a precursor to the American Textile Manufacturers Institute. His industrial communities provided affordable housing and shopping, recreation, and “hands on” support for his employees. Concern for the good of others was always important to Cannon, and in 1917 before medical care in the workplace was common he encouraged his father to hire a nurse to care for the company’s employees. He founded the Cabarrus Memorial Hospital and served on the board there for more than 30 years. He also served on the board of his own company until his death in 1971 (despite retiring from the company years earlier). Today schools, hospitals and community service agencies across the Carolinas continue to benefit from his generosity through the Charles A. Cannon Foundation.
Hometown: Ashe County, North Carolina
Alfred Johnson Fletcher, the seventh of fourteen children, was born in 1887 in the mountains of North Carolina. After studying law at Wake Forest College, he opened a practice in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina. In 1919 he moved his family to Raleigh to pursue other business opportunities. Fletcher had great success with his many ventures including a legal practice, the Dixie Life Insurance Company, Hayes Barton Laundry and Dry Cleaners, and a whole sale grocery business. His greatest achievement was the Capitol Broadcasting Company, which he created when he applied for a 250 watt AM station in 1937. When he went on the air in 1939, he was only the second radio station in Raleigh. In addition to being a wise businessman, Fletcher was a firm believer in the arts. An early life experience attending an opera made a life-long impression on the entrepreneur. In the late 1940s, Fletcher and friends created the Grass Roots Opera Company, now known as the National Opera Company, exposing many young people to this classic art form. With a strong interest in music, Fletcher also started the Fletcher School of the Performing Arts, creating music scholarships for college bound students. Despite his death in 1979, his generous spirit continues on today in the work of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which supports the arts, anti-poverty programs, public education and emerging non-profits.
Hometown: Patrick County, Virginia
As the sixth of 16 children, Richard Joshua Reynolds left his small Virginia town at an early age to establish his own company. At the age of 25, Reynolds opened a chewing tobacco manufacturing company in Winston, North Carolina and quickly became a pioneer in the industry. He anticipated the growth in the smoking tobacco market and developed a line of pipe tobaccos. In 1913, he introduced Camel, the first American blend cigarette. His innovative branding and marketing strategy set the industry standard. Reynolds was well known for his personal relationship with his employees, most of whom he knew by name. In 1912, he devised an employee stock option and profit-sharing plan that enabled many employees to gain financial security. Reynolds supported various educational and community service projects including hospitals, churches, higher education and agriculture. By the time of his death in 1918, Reynolds had revolutionized the tobacco industry and brought economic development to a large area of North Carolina through his business and philanthropic endeavors.