George S. May International Company History
Park Ridge, Illinois 60068-4255
Telephone: (847) 825-8806
Fax: (847) 825-7937
Employees: 1,200 (est.)
Sales: $116 million (2000 est.)
NAIC: 541611 Administrative Management and General Management Consulting Services
Over the past 77 years, we've helped nearly 500,000 businesses in over 3,000 business categories spanning the full spectrum of manufacturing, wholesale, retail, construction, health care, and service industries.
- George S. May founds a management consultant firm.
- The company opens offices in New York and San Francisco.
- May acquires Tam O'Shanter Country Club.
- May promotes the first nationally televised golf tournament.
- George May dies.
- Raymond Margolies retires after serving 18 years as president.
- Israel Kushnir replaces Donald J. Fletcher, who served 12 years as president.
George S. May International Company, with its headquarters located in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, Illinois, is a family-owned management consulting firm dedicated primarily to serving small and medium-sized companies in a wide range of industries. Most of its clients generate less than $100 million in annual sales and have fewer than 100 employees. May helps these businesses to improve their overall operations by offering assistance in a variety of areas, including profit engineering, human capital management, operational effectiveness, customer relations management, and technology management. May prides itself on completing assignments within an agreed upon time, making it necessary to service a large number of clients. Since the company's founding in 1925, May has advised over 350,000 businesses and usually maintains about 275 active accounts. This high turnover rate requires that the company pursue an aggressive and carefully coordinated marketing program, which starts with a centralized telemarketing effort. Using area business listings, May telemarketers cold call potential clients, informing them that May representatives will soon be in their area. If the businessperson is interested in a meeting, May will dispatch a salesperson within 48 hours. The goal at this stage is simply to sell May's diagnostic survey instrument to assess the company's condition. A May consultant then visits the client to offer bottom-line solutions; more detailed advice and specific projects can then be contracted. May projects generally last less than two months.
1920s Company Origins
George Storr May, the company founder, was born on a farm in the east central Illinois town of Windsor in 1890. The self-sufficiency of farm life led to a love for mechanical and technical matters and helped to nurture a talent for problem solving. Nevertheless, May was uninterested in becoming either a farmer or a teacher, despite earning a degree from Eastern Illinois States Teachers College. Instead, he pursued a business career, and at first worked as a Bible salesman, following the sawdust trail of legendary baseball-player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday and selling into newly revived communities Sunday left in his wake. May then tried to put his problem solving skills to use by becoming a freelance consultant on short-term jobs. He found permanent work as an efficiency expert for a wholesale tailoring company, a job he enjoyed, but due to poor economic conditions in the aftermath of World War I he was laid off. May decided to start his own company to work as a business management consult and in 1924 mailed letters to a number of Chicago businesses offering his services as a business problem solver. Eventually he landed his first assignment with Chicago Flexible Shaft Company, today's Sunbeam Corporation. With that job in hand he established the George S. May Company on February 1, 1925, and initially focused on large companies.
May generated sales of $10,000 in the first year, but within three years, during the economic boom of the Roaring Twenties, the company was billing $250,000. Business was so strong that May expanded to both coasts, opening offices in both New York City and San Francisco in 1929, the same year that the stock market crash ushered in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Despite the difficult economic climate, May persevered, recovered lost business, and by 1937 increased annual revenues to more than $1 million. It was also during the 1930s that George May became involved in the game of golf, becoming a legendary promoter of the professional game while at the same time promoting his advisory firm.
May Becomes Involved in Golf in 1930s
In 1936, a fire destroyed the clubhouse of the Tam O'Shanter Country Club in the Chicago suburb of Niles and bankrupted the owners. May acquired a controlling interest in the golf club and over the next several years invested more than $500,000 to renovate and operate the facility. He also became involved in sponsoring golf tournaments in 1941, due in large part to dissatisfaction with his experience at the 1940 U.S. Open held at Cleveland's Canterbury Country Club. Following the 1940 Chicago Open held at Tam O'Shanter, May made a splash by announcing he would sponsor a new tournament in 1941, the Tam O'Shanter Open, offering the largest purse in professional golf: $15,000. While Canterbury had charged $3.30 a ticket, he would only charge $1. When the tournament was finally staged, May revealed a number of other unprecedented innovations, much of which are taken for granted today. He provided grandstands at key locations, as well as shortwave radio broadcasts so that fans could follow events happening elsewhere on the course. He also sold hot dogs, soda, and beer after the fashion of other sporting events. Moreover, he hosted a dance after the tournament and made slot machines available. Around 41,000 spectators attended the tournament, 23,000 on the final day alone, many having never attended a golf tournament before. Those more familiar with the reverence expected of golf galleries hardly knew what to make of the boisterous atmosphere May brought to the game. The Saturday Evening Post wrote: "All told, it was a cross between a county fair and a good airplane crash."
George May was just getting started with his foray into golf, which would include staging major tournaments for women. In the process, he built up the name recognition of his firm as well as fashioning a recognizable persona for himself. According to a 1943 Time magazine profile, May "advertises his personality by wearing $32 shirts, lurid handkerchiefs, and horse-blanket striped suits." In 1945, he launched the Tam O'Shanter World Championship, offering a total purse of $60,000 in war bonds, with the winner receiving $13,600. At the time, few tournaments offered purses of $10,000, and the standard winner's share was $2,000. By introducing big-money tournaments, May was instrumental in the rise of modern professional golf. Before his arrival, golfers simply did not expect to make a living at the sport. At the same time, May continued to introduce innovations. He was the first to mount large scoreboards that relied on shortwave radio communication to provide up-to-the-minute results. He was the first to allow club members to use golf carts and to install telephones at each tee for member use. He was, however, unsuccessful in forcing players to wear numbers so that fans could make use of scorecards, which he would be able to sell. His association with the Tam O'Shanter Country Club did not come without adverse publicity. Golf purists were upset over some of May's innovations and subjected him to criticism that portrayed him as little more than a carnival barker. May did not improve his image by arranging to have one player in his tournament compete wearing a mask and billing him as "The Masked Marvel" or by paying a Scottish golfer to play wearing kilts. He was also criticized after making a playing exception for heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis. A less savory episode occurred in 1951 when a Chicago grand jury recommended that he be held in contempt for refusing to produce financial records of the country club as part of an inquiry into whether organized crime was operating the slot machines. Later in the year, he refused to testify before a United States Senate committee investigating the relationship between gangsters and his club, and he was cited for contempt. In October 1952, he was exculpated of the contempt charge when a federal judge ruled that he was constitutionally protected against self-incrimination.
May's greatest moment in golf came in July 1953 when The Tam O'Shanter World Championship became the first tournament to be nationally televised. By now, the winner's share of the tournament had grown to $25,000, an amount higher than the total purse of every other professional tournament. Fledgling network ABC became interested in the event because of the large prize and offered to do a one-hour broadcast of the final round if May paid $32,000. Although television was still in its infancy, May understood the publicity value of televising the tournament, both in terms of the people watching on television and the print coverage of the broadcast. An estimated 1 million watched as a single camera located above the grandstand on the 18th green followed the conclusion of the tournament. There were only ten minutes left in the broadcast when golfer Lew Worsham, trailing by one shot, made a miraculous 115-yard eagle to overtake the leader and win the $25,000. It made great television and immediately showed the potential for golf on the medium. Not to be upstaged, May immediately stepped onto the green to announce that the winning share of the 1954 tournament would be doubled to $50,000, plus the winner would also have the chance to play 50 exhibitions to promote his consulting company at $1,000 each. Following in May's footsteps, the U.S. Open was nationally televised for the first time in 1954 and the Masters in 1956. Ironically, May stopped sponsoring golf tournaments after 1958 when he declined to meet the player's demand for even more money. He continued to operate the country club until his death, his wife eventually selling the property to a developer in the late 1960s.
While May was beginning his flirtation with golf just before the United States entered World War II, his company was expanding beyond the borders, working for Canadian clients whose country was already involved in the fight and were attempting to be as efficient as possible in their contributions to the war effort. This work proved invaluable for May, which subsequently consulted with the U.S. government and companies involved in the war effort once the United States was drawn into World War II. In 1943, revenues grew to $3 million, and by the time the war was over in 1945 the company was billing more than $6 million a year. It was at this point that George May initiated a significant shift in direction for the company in light of the changes that he anticipated would occur in the postwar business world. He believed that instead of focusing on large corporations the company should target the many small and medium size companies that arose to meet the challenge of the war effort. To achieve this new strategy, the company had to expand at a significant rate, and by 1950 it employed 500 people. Only 2 percent of the company's clients were now larger corporations. May also became a truly international firm in the postwar years after it expanded into Europe, which had to be rebuilt following several years of fighting. Many Western European businesses were eager to improve their operations and turned to May, the first company to provide management consulting services on the continent. In the 1950s, the company opened offices in such cities as Dusseldorf, Germany; Milan, Italy; and Paris, France. As the transportation systems recovered and communication capabilities improved, there was less need for a network of offices and eventually May's European operations were consolidated in Milan.
Leadership Changes in the 1960s
On March 12, 1962, George May died of a heart at the Tam O'Shanter Country Club at the age of 71. He was survived by his wife Alice, his son Dale, and daughters Dorothy and Jean. Together they inherited all the shares of stock of the company May founded. Raymond Margolies, who had been with May for 13 years, was named the new president. He remained at the helm for 18 years, during which time the business continued to grow at such a steady rate that the company initiated a number of moves and expansions. The exodus from downtown Chicago to Park Ridge, Illinois, occurred in 1966.
Margolies retired in 1990, replaced by Donald J. Fletcher, who had 23 years service in May's Management Service Department. Under Fletcher's watch the company exceeded the $100 million mark in annual sales. All the while, the company continued to keep pace with the times. In the early years of the Internet, May established a Web site that offered small business owners and managers research data, management tips, and information on the latest business trends. Later on, the company offered Web-based software training for businesses looking to improve the computer skills of their employees. In 2000, May launched operations in Mexico and also acquired a building next to its headquarters in Park Ridge to establish the George S. May Training Center, in effect creating a corporate campus for the company at its main site. In 2002, Fletcher was replaced as May's president by Israel Kushnir, who had previously been associated with the company for 21 years. With strong continuity in management over its history and a strong track record, there was every reason to believe that May would continue to thrive in the foreseeable future.
Principal Divisions: Headquarters American; Western American Division; Worldwide Operations.
Principal Competitors: International Profit Associates, Inc.; McKinsey & Company; Bain & Company.
- Dobrian, Joseph, "Golf Grows Up," American Heritage, 2002, p. 4.
- "George S, May: Missionary Selling 101," Consultants News, February 1, 1997, p. 9.
- Purkey, Mike, "The Barnum of Golf," Golf Magazine, December 1, 1995, p. 82.
- Oloroso, Arsenio, Jr., "Small-Time Consulting: An Untapped Market Most Firms Ignore," Crain's Chicago Business, July 12, 1993, p. 15.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 55. St. James Press, 2003.