John E. Canfield was graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1930, and entered as the employee of Wisconsin Power and Light Company the same year as a power sales engineer. In 1934, he went to Ed Gerton as local manager, and in 1937 came to the General Office, Madison, as commercial supervisor. Later, he was made assistant to the new business manager in the sales department, and in 1941, became special representative of the company at Badger Ordnance Works. In 1943, Mr. Canfield was made executive assistant, and in 1944 public information director. He was elected Vice President in Charge of Employee and Public Relations in 1951, and Vice President in Charge of District Operations and Sales in 1954.
In 1948 the Northwest Utilities Company and the Middle West Corporation divested themselves of the common stock of Wisconsin Power and Light Company by distributing it to holders of Middle West common stock. As a result, the company's common stock was widely scattered throughout the United States. Shortly after this distribution, a survey showed that only 18 per cent of the common stock was held in Wisconsin by 21 per cent of the total number of common stockholders.
The specific objective was to increase both shares and owners in Wisconsin to more than 50 per cent. In order to accomplish this, it was decided to develop a program which would appeal to stockholders of the company.
Back in the middle 1930's, preferred stockholders of Wisconsin Power and Light Company were getting only a part of the regular dividend, as the company was not earning a fair return on their investment. Rate reductions were being forced on the company, and PWA loans and grants for municipal acquisition of facilities threatened the future of the company.
Something had to be done. It was necessary to devise a means of taking the situation to the stockholders and telling them frankly about our problems and our plans for meeting them. It was decided that personal contact by officials with stockholders was the only solution.
It was decided to accomplish these objectives by developing a program which would encourage broad local ownership of the company's common stock.
Accordingly, stockholder committees were formed in each of the important communities served by the company. These committees arranged meetings to which all of the local stockholders were invited. Investors became personally acquainted with the officers of the company and were convinced that management was doing everything within its power to protect their interests. They became an active force fighting in the company's interests.
Out of these stockholder meetings came a permanent group of stockholder committees which have continued to function for eighteen years. After the initial job had been done and confidence re established, their activities generally were confined to two meetings a year one in March after the annual report had been issued and the year's financial picture completed. The second was after the mid year reports had become available. These committees have reported the results of their meetings to local stockholders.
Since 1952, in order to bring the common stock back home and to meet other public relations' objectives, we have arranged a series of stockholder meetings with the stockholder committees acting as hosts.
In doing this, first it was necessary to decide upon the type of meeting, and to develop informational material which would be of interest to a typical cross section of stockholders. Surveys of stock ownership revealed the following holdings by occupations.
Accordingly, a comprehensive exhibit was developed which it was believed would interest most stockholders. This display featured the territory served, the basic facts about its economic growth, and its needs for additional power facilities. The center of the exhibit was an illuminated map of the service area with principal power plant locations spotted by stars which flashed on as the picture of the corresponding plant was shown. The center section was flanked by panels on which were vital statistics about manufacturing, agriculture, and trade in the territory.
It was felt that this type of dramatic pictorial presentation would have more interest than a purely statistical report.
When the exhibit had been completed, stockholder committees were contacted. They were asked to serve as hosts at stockholder meetings. A suggested letter of invitation was developed. This letter, when approved by the local committee, was sent to all stockholders in the particular area. In addition, small advertisements were run in local newspapers. Where radio was regularly used by the company, air announcements reminded stockholders of their scheduled meeting.
During the first half of 1952, a total of 20 meetings were held and attended by a total of 1,515 stockholders and their friends. These meetings were held at 10 different locations. Additional meetings were subsequently held.
At these meetings, a great majority of stockholders for the first time met the officers of the company. After the business part of each meeting had been completed, refreshments were served. The officers mingled with the stockholders on an informal, chatty basis.
Every possible use was made of these meetings to enlist the interest and support of existing local stockholders. After each meeting, the complete stockholder program was written up and released to local newspapers with pictures of the exhibits. This procedure proved an effective means of presenting in the local press the company's financial plans and a review of its operations.
During the spring of 1952 when the first large series of meetings was held, news stories reporting the stockholder meetings appeared in 53 local newspapers during a period of 3 months.
As in the stockholder meetings described in the foregoing, stockholder committees also acted as hosts at open house celebrations at new generating stations.
At a special open house celebration for the first unit of the new $13,000,000 addition to Rock River Generating plant, 16,500 people attended, including 250 stockholder committee people and numerous stockholders from all over the state. This was in 1954.
In 1952, a celebration was held which marked the success of the program in promoting ownership of the company by local investors. On that day a certificate for five shares of common stock was presented to Dick Nack, fifteen year old news carrier boy for the Sheboygan Press. Young Dick purchased this stock from his earnings. As closely as the company could figure, Dick's purchase put the Wisconsin ownership of common stock over the 50 per cent mark.
A testimonial luncheon was held for Dick. He was given a personally escorted tour of the company's Edgewater plant at Sheboygan with the executive vice president as his guide.
This human interest story was widely used by the newspapers in the company's territory. Moreover, the company told the story in paid space.