Sometimes a company is a lot more than just a ticker symbol.
John Dornan started working for Corning (GLW) in the 1930s. He never had a chance to earn a college degree, and after a few transfers took him from Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and finally to corporate headquarters in Corning, N.Y., he progressed to middle management and ran one of the company's factories.
After working several decades for Corning, Dornan became ill while standing at a podium in a company meeting. He was immediately hospitalized and stayed in the hospital through most of the holiday season. The company offered to fly his three children home. One was in France in a college study abroad program. Another was on an aircraft carrier as a newly promoted naval officer. And his oldest was living in Sioux Falls, S.D., raising a family.
On Christmas day, Corning's chairman of the board and CEO at the time, Amo Houghton, visited Dornan and all other Corning employees who had been hospitalized. He spent time with each individual employee, no matter their rank or position in the company.
After Dornan recovered, the company made every attempt to keep him active in the company, offering him a number of different positions, ranging from research to advisory to administrative. In 1972, Corning allowed Dornan to retire early with the promise that the company would continue benefits for him and his family.
Dornan passed in 1986. That same year, Houghton was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. After being re-elected several times, Houghton retired from Congress in 2005.
In 1999, while Houghton represented the 31th Congressional District, a high school junior from the greater Washington, D.C., area walked into the his offices and asked to speak with a staff member. She requested to be considered for a part-time internship to work one day a week for the academic year. Houghton never interviewed her and never met her until she had been working for several weeks.
One day, the chief of staff asked the student if she would like to meet the congressman. She walked into his inner office, sat down and had a chat. After a while, the student asked if the congressman remembered her grandfather, John Dornan. He did. Without hesitation, he told her a number of wonderful stories about Dornan and Corning. He had not forgotten. He had not forgotten many other former employees, even though he had not worked in the company for decades.
Corning kept its word. Dornan's widow lived until she reached the age of 97 years. As promised, the company provided her with medical and other benefits until her last day. Some of those benefits included healthy discounts on the company's consumer products and its famous Steuben crystal. Those discounts continued until Corning sold its consumer and Steuben divisions. The Steuben division was bought by Schottenstein Stores, a privately owned company.
Now, it appears that Schottenstein's Steuben division is facing challenges. To control losses, it will wind down Steuben's operations by the end of the year. The former Corning employees will be terminated.
As it did with the Dornan and others, Corning appears to be ready to step in for the Steuben families. According to The Corning Leader, Corning bought back the Steuben brand from Schottenstein, and it plans to rehire many of Steuben's employees (there's little hope that Corning will restart Steuben's production).
Corning's corporate culture is unique. The company is run by seasoned executives seeking a fair profit for their shareholders. And the company's interest in its community and employees fostered decades of goodwill. Corning's goodwill started several generations back when Amo's family founded "the glass works" in 1851. As the Steuben move illustrates, that culture continues to this day.
There are sound reasons why investors, financiers, employees, retirees and the community respect this company. And by the way, the late John Dornan was my father-in-law.