The Denver Post - Rockmount's Chief Turns 106
Rockmount's chief turns 106
A VERY SENIOR CEO STILL IN THE SADDLE
By Will Shanley Denver Post Staff Writer
March 27, 2007
Jack Weil sits where he does every weekday, in his office at Rockmount Ranch Wear on Wazee Street. Believed to be the oldest CEO in the U.S., he founded Rockmount in 1946. His Western shirt design with snaps instead of buttons has endured as a hit for decades. (Post / Andy Cross)
Jack A. Weil, the founder and chief executive of Denver-based Rockmount Ranch Wear, is believed to be the nation's oldest CEO. He turns 106 today. Credited with introducing snap buttons on Western shirts, Weil's slim-fitting shirts have been worn by luminaries including Ronald Reagan, Elvis Presley and Eric Clapton. "We hit on something that interested people," said Weil, speaking from the company's retail outlet and offices at 1626 Wazee St. in downtown Denver. "It was the attraction of the Rocky Mountains." Weil's grandson Steve heads daily operations of the manufacturing company, which sells internationally.
Jack Weil typically works about four hours each weekday at the office and is driven to and from his home. In the off hours, he said, he likes to watch reruns of "The Andy Griffith Show," which premiered when Weil was 59. Weil has learned a thing or two about life and business during his more than 10 decades. Here are some nuggets of wisdom from "Papa Jack."
On making a good Western shirt: "A crummy shirt fits like a sack. The other is a form-fitting shirt, which is what I figured to make."
On building a successful business: "You've got to consider the environment, and you've got to consider the times. I learned a long time ago that I don't want anyone to give me more than 5 percent of my business. Because if I lose them, that would put too much pressure on (the company)."
On dealing with overdue customers: "I suggest that they send me three or four checks post-dated. Not too many (business) people do that. You have to understand your customers' problems."
On working every day: "What the heck else would I do?"
On opening a retail store: "We went into retail to stay in business. Wal-Mart has put a lot of independent merchants out of business. The wholesalers are nearly gone. But it might be better for the consumer."
On doing business with the founder of retailer J.C. Penney: "I sold Penney some of his first shirts. James Cash Penney was a country boy out of Missouri. He was a smart guy."
On money and politics: "I've always felt that a young man worth his salt is a Democrat until he makes a little money. And if he wants to save that money, he becomes a Republican."
On marrying well: "I guess I didn't know any better. I married a country girl, but she was a smarty." (His wife, Beatrice, died in 1990.)
On drinking whiskey: "I drink for medicinal purposes. I take a shot of Jack Daniel's about twice a week to keep my blood thin." Staff writer Will Shanley can be reached at 303-954-1260 or email@example.com.
TIME LINE - Jack A. Weil
March 28, 1901: Weil was born in Evansville, Ind., to Abraham Weil, who fled the Alsace-Lorraine region of France during the Franco-Prussian invasion of 1871.
June 22, 1926: He married Beatrice Baum in Humboldt, Tenn. They had two children, son Jack B. in 1928 and daughter Jane Romberg in 1935. Beatrice died in 1990.
1928: The Weils moved to Denver so he could market Paris Garters for the A. Stein Co. of Chicago. "When I came to Denver, Highway 40 down Colfax was a gravel road," Weil said.
1935: He became a partner in the Stockman Co., which sold jeans and hats to farmers and working cowboys. Weil persuaded chamber of commerce and rodeo officials to promote their towns and events by wearing Western clothes. The strategy worked, and the firm, now Miller Co., prospered.
1939: Weil paid for his first house at 233 Belaire St., in full, after saving for 11 years. The family later moved to Capitol Hill, where Weil lives today. Weil began making shirts inspired by fashions he saw in early Western movies.
1940s: Weil was an air-raid warden during WWII.
1946: Weil founded Rockmount Ranch Wear Mfg. Co., 1626 Wazee St. His shirt design of the sawtooth pocket and diamond signature snap instead of buttons is among the longest-running shirt designs manufactured in the U.S. He had to persuade his Eastern manufacturers to create a snap that would survive a ringer washing machine. "If a cowboy's buttoned shirt got hooked on a steer's horn, it would hold," he said. "But the snap would pop open."
1952: His son, Jack B. Weil, joined the firm, broadening Rockmount's lines and expanding the company nationally.
1981: Grandson Steve Weil joined Rockmount after receiving degrees from Tulane University and the University of Bristol in England. Steve extended Rockmount's reach across the globe.
January 2001: Wazee Street was renamed by Mayor Wellington Webb as "Jack A. Weil Way" in recognition of his 100th birthday. An annual sign-changing celebration has continued since then, including today at 11:30 a.m.
November 2005: The Rockmount warehouse was renovated and opened as the flagship store and museum at 1626 Wazee. Rockmount shirts were worn in the movie "Brokeback Mountain."
Sources: The Denver Post archives; Steve Weil of Rockmount Ranch Wear Compiled by Vickie Makings of The Denver Post Research Library