Parks, H. G.
H. G. Parks
Entrepreneur, business executive
Pioneering businessman Henry Green Parks Jr. led the way for the sale of stocks in black businesses on Wall Street. As the founder of H. G. Parks Inc., Parks was the driving force behind the popular sausage company for over two decades. Established in 1951, the company flourished under his guidance and work ethic, and its cutting-edge marketing campaigns ushered in sales techniques that are widely used to market American goods. Most notably, the company's radio and television ads popularized "More Parks sausages, Mom, please," and boasted impressive earnings before the close of its first decade. In 1969, Parks led the public sale of Parks, Inc.'s stocks on the NASDAQ. The achievement was the first-ever of its kind for an African American-owned company.
Henry Green Parks Jr. was born on September 29, 1916 in Atlanta, Georgia to Henry Green Parks Sr. and a domestic laborer whose name is unknown. The elder Parks was also a domestic and soon the family moved together to Dayton, Ohio, in search of a better life. The father was hired as a hotel bartender and later as a wine steward in a private club, and both parents worked long hours, leaving the family very little time together. At just six months old, young Parks was left in the care of his maternal grandmother.
Graduating from Dayton public schools, Parks opted not to enter a historically black college or university. Instead, he applied to Ohio State University, the state's leading university. Although he was aware of the difficulties that being an African American student at a traditionally white institution posed, Parks believed that a degree from Ohio State would increase his chances of professional success. While there, he did encounter racism but endeavored to succeed, working to pay his way through college. A trailblazer in his own right, Parks became the first black on the university's swim team, and he roomed with future Olympic gold medal winner and world record holder Jesse Owens.
Parks began his collegiate career as an accounting major, but by his graduation in 1939, he had changed his major to marketing. Having graduated with honors and as the only African American in his class, Parks showed a natural talent for salesmanship both in and out of the classroom. In fact, so much so, that a counselor advised him to spend some time in South America where he could acquire an accent and then change his name. The professor reasoned that when Parks returned to the United States, he could assume a new identity. According to him, this was a perfect equation for Parks to succeed as a businessman of color in America. Parks disagreed; the example set by his father included diligence, perseverance and making difficult choices, they did not include dishonesty.
Gains Needed Marketing Experience
Accordingly Parks sought employment, and after several months, he secured a job at the National Youth Administration in Cincinnati. Later, his mentorship with renown educator Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman College in Florida, landed him employment with the Resident War Production Training Center in Wilberforce, Ohio. In his first experience in business management, Parks was responsible for overseeing fifty staff members and training several hundred persons for jobs in industry. While in Wilberforce, he also met world champion boxer Joe Louis, with whom he later joined forces in several business projects. One such venture included Parks' management of the singing career of Louis' wife. Another collaboration entailed his heading a soft drink company that manufactured Joe Louis Punch, which, although it was not particularly successful, afforded Parks valuable management experience.
Beginning in 1940, Parks worked as a beer salesman for Pabst Brewing Company. By the end of his two-year tenure, Parks had risen to the position of national salesman and had devised several lucrative marketing campaigns for the company. His plan to displace Budweiser as the exclusive supplier for the nation's railroads solicited the cooperation of railroad porters, dining car attendants, and waiters to increase the company's sales. To market to the black community, Parks employed famous African American personalities such as Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, and Cab Calloway in Pabst's marketing campaign. Both plans were successful, far exceeding the company's expectations.
- Born in Atlanta, Georgia on September 29
- Graduates with honors from Ohio State University College of Commerce
- Works as a salesman for the Pabst Brewing Company
- Co-founds W. G. Graham and Associates
- Co-partners in the Crayton Southern Sausage Company
- Founds H. G. Parks Inc. with William L. Adams as a silent partner
- Takes H. G. Parks Inc. public
- Awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from Temple University
- Sells his interest in H. G. Parks Inc.
- Dies in Towson, Maryland on April 24
In 1942, Parks and W. B. Graham, a co-worker resigned from Pabst. Together, they founded a public relations and advertising firm, W. B. Graham and Asso-ciates, in New York. While the company enjoyed moderate success, Parks left Graham and Associates, to co-partner in launching the Crayton Southern Sausage company in 1949. The company's slow expansion over the course of the next two years did not discourage his partners from wanting to close. Objecting to the closure, Parks allowed the other partners to buy him out.
Launches H. G. Parks Inc.
Parks had moved to Baltimore at the suggestion of Baltimore businessman and civic leader William L. Adams, whom he met on a train to Boston in 1948. Impressed by Parks' academic credentials and professional potential, Adams initially gave him a job at his real estate firm. Getting the support necessary to start a company was difficult. In the interim, he also worked as a drugstore manager and owned a cement block manufacturing company. After his efforts to secure a bank loan proved futile, Parks used the profits he yielded from the sale of Crayton to establish a new business.
With Adams' financial backing, he opened Parks Sausage Company in 1951. Its concept was to manufacture distinctive and tasty Southern-style foods that were less expensive than most cuts of meat. Parks and his two staff members made sausage one day and sold it the next. Relying on the marketing experiences he gained while at Pabst, Parks began an exhaustive campaign to attract buyers in the African American community. Eventually, he expanded his target market to include white-owned businesses, and he was one of the first food manufacturers to offer cooking demonstrations and taste tests in grocery stores. As one of the most multi-dimensional marketing promotions of its time, the company's mascot "Porky the Pig" also gave out children's gifts and conducted a "Customer of the Day" program.
Even after these successes, Parks lamented in a 1977 interview with the New York Times, "I nearly lost it all in the first couple years, it was difficult to borrow." Repeatedly rejected for loans by bank officers who could not even offer him a reason for their denial, Parks sold his house and borrowed against his life insurance to purchase reconditioned equipment and a few delivery trucks. Nevertheless, the business still struggled to stay afloat until he was extended two loans in 1964. Issued by the Maryland National Bank, the first loan financed the construction of a modern-structured manufacturing plant in the south Baltimore's Camden Industrial Park. Monumental Life Insurance Company provided the second, which financed the building's mortgage.
The company grew under Parks' leadership, building a national reputation for high quality. Most notably, its unique marketing strategies successfully image-branded the company with its famous radio and television campaign. As early as 1964, the plaintive voice of a child rang out with "More Parks sausages, Mom," on American radio airwaves. Devised by marketing executive Leon Shaffer Golnick, the company added "Please" to the slogan two years later, after complaints that the child sounded rude. Reproduced on television and billboards for decades to come, this ad featured a white child. In a 1995 interview with The Baltimore Sun Raymond V. Haysbert, one of Parks' first employees, explained the company's position: "If a person with a Negro voice said something in a commercial … there would be an immediate downplaying of the product."
Parks Goes to Wall Street
After years of financial success, Parks took the company public in 1969, making it the first black-owned business in the United States to do so. Its triumph was undoubtedly due to his constant presence as the company's guiding force. After all, he personally sampled its product everyday for more than two decades. In the process, Parks' partner Haysbert succeeded him as president after Parks began to suffer from Parkinson's disease in the mid-1970s. In 1973, the company's sales topped $13.8 million and stood seventh among the top 100 black-owned businesses as listed by Black Enterprise magazine in 1976.
By the following year, Parks Inc. boasted three hundred employees, but with Parks' health difficulties looming, he and Adams sold their interests in the company to the Norin Corporation. Each held 158,000 shares, which were valued at approximately $1.58 million at the time. Although Haysbert became the company's chief executive officer, Parks continued to serve as chairman. Parks also became a member of Norin's board of directors and signed a seven-year contract to serve as a consultant to the parent-company.
Unfortunately, trouble began almost immediately as the company's sales began to lag behind rising production costs. The company's 1976 profits, which had totaled $860,000, fell sharply to $424,000 the following year. Sighting the company's difficulties, the Canadian Pacific Corporation conglomerate, which acquired Norin in 1979, quickly planned to liquidate Parks Inc. While a group led by Haysbert purchased the company in 1980, the company struggled to remain open into the 1990s. Even after its sale to former National Football League greats Franco Harris and Lyndell Mitchell in the mid-1990s, the company's financial woes continued. The pair sold the company to the Philadelphia-based deli meat producer Dietz & Watson in 1999, which offered Parks' employees severance retirement packages instead of jobs, effectively ending one of Baltimore's most inspiring business legacies.
The Parks Legacy
From 1963 to 1969 Parks served on the Baltimore city council, pushing bills to open public accommodations to African Americans and easing bail requirements for people accused of crimes. His 1963 defeat of James H. "Jack" Pollock's political machine was an impressive personal accomplishment and the implications of Parks' victory reverberated in Baltimore local politics for a long time afterward. Due to his tenure, the level of black influence in city politics increased, ultimately helping to make it possible for the elections of both William Donald Shaefer and Marvin Mandel as Maryland's governor.
Parks believed that it was his duty to share his influence and business acumen as well as to provide financial support to deserving initiatives. Accordingly, he served on the boards of W. R. Grace & Co., Magnavox, Warner Lambert, and First Pennsylvania Corporation. He was also the first African American appointee to serve as president of the Baltimore board of fire commissioners. Always supportive of efforts to extend racial uplift, Parks gave freely to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, United Negro College Fund, and Urban League. "We've gone beyond the time of protest marches against discrimination," remarked Parks. "I want to see that young people and other minorities of whatever race—including women—are not frustrated in their expectations of acceptance and advancement." In recognition of his lifelong achievements, Temple University awarded him an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1975.
In an awkward twist of fate, Henry Green Parks Jr. died of complications from Parkinson's disease on April 24, 1989 in Towson, Maryland, on the same day that the company broke ground for a new plant. He was survived by his two daughters, Grace C. Johnson of Baltimore and Cheryl V. Parks of Atlanta; a sister, Vera Wilson of Washington, D.C.; and three grandchildren. According to an article in Newsday, Parks once remarked, "I think that I proved that black businessmen not only can be successful, but that they can be successful on the same terms as anybody else." He proved that and so much more.
Pride, Marseille M. "Henry Green Parks Jr." In American National Biography. Vol. 17. Eds. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Freeny, Lawrence. "For Henry Parks … More than Sausages." New York Times, 10 April 1977.
―――――. "Parks Sausages Is Back for More." New York Times, 20 December 1981.
"H. G. Parks, Sausage Firm Founder." Newsday, 26 April 1989.
Koshetz, Herbert. "'Top 10' Black Businesses Listed." New York Times, 13 June 1973.
Mullanet, Timothy J. "Founder's Vision Helped Firm to Overcome Adversity." The Baltimore Sun, 8 July 1995.
Narvaez, Alfonso A. "Henry Green Parks Jr. Dies at 72; Led Way for Black Entrepreneurs." New York Times, 26 April 1989.
Reed, Keith. "Wall Street Pioneer." Baltimore Business Journal 18 (21 July 2000): 21.
Crystal A. deGregory