"No one in the world knew more about the spice business than Bailey Thomas," noted a financial analyst following the death this week of Bailey A. Thomas, chairman and chief executive officer of Baltimore's venerable McCormick & Co. It was a fitting tribute.
The chief of the world's No. 1 spice company was, indeed, spicemeister. He knew the spice business inside and out. He was a renowned detail man. And he had a global vision for McCormick that has paid off handsomely.
Under Mr. Thomas' leadership, a revitalized McCormick has experienced rapid growth. Its profits tripled in five years and its stock price quadrupled. His success in expanding spice and flavoring markets overseas -- especially in Europe and Asia -- has positioned the $1.6 billion company for continued strong growth into the next century.
That's quite a tribute to Mr. Thomas, who died at the age of 63. But Baltimore and Maryland will miss his presence as much as those at McCormick's headquarters in Sparks. He was a true Marylander from humble origins who loved mixing with ordinary folks and never forgot his roots. He was a big civic and charity booster, too, committed to helping this region thrive.
Mr. Thomas, the son of a Crisfield waterman and farmer, got his education in a one-room school house in Princess Anne, then took engineering courses at Johns Hopkins before turning to door-to-door selling. He eventually received an accounting degree from the University of Baltimore and launched his career as a business executive.
His folksy manner was genuine. He liked people. His colleagues were amazed that he knew everyone by first name. He also would conjure up hilarious stunts to keep workers and managers laughing. But there was no mistaking his sharp mind and deep devotion to his company. As one corporate manager put it, "He really was the embodiment of McCormick culture."
The company he leaves behind -- the third largest in Maryland -- is robust and vibrant. His overseas expansion plans are proceeding on schedule. A deep and experienced management team is well positioned to take up the reins of power.
But who will fill the void Bailey Thomas leaves in the Baltimore business community? He was a booster of state and regional interests, a heavyweight from a hometown corporation. This region needs more business leaders like Bailey Thomas. He set an example for others to follow.