The business philosophy of Paul Julius Reuter

Paul Reuter

John Entwisle, the corporate historian of Thomson Reuters, writes Thursday about wire service founder Paul Julius Reuter and his business practices.

Entwisle writes, “A later Reuters editor was George Douglas Williams. He went on to have a long career with the company, remaining in post for a remarkable 24 years. However, as a young sub-editor, Williams was another whose career could have ended virtually before it began, but for Reuter’s perception and judgement.

“Williams had joined Reuters in 1860 when the night office was located at King Street, London. The office backed directly onto the garden and back yard of Julius Reuter’s own house in Finsbury Square. Foreign news was not yet continuous. During the long intervals when no news was to hand and there was virtually nothing to do, night staff were permitted to doze. And so it was that Williams was asleep when news of the first big battle of the American Civil War at Bull Run arrived by telegram. Try as he might, the young telegraph boy failed to rouse him from his slumbers. At last he had no choice but to leave the message on Williams’s chest. Meanwhile, Williams slept on, untroubled until ‘in the grey light of dawn he was aroused by the spectacle of his employer in his dressing gown and slippers standing over his bed and shaking the fateful message in his face.’ As was his custom, Reuter had come across the garden to see what news had arrived overnight.

“Such a lapse could well have cost Williams his job. But once again Reuter took the unexpected decision to overlook what had happened. Reuters, he estimated, would still be better off with Williams rather than without him.

“Here was yet another case of Julius Reuter’s intuitive capacity to recognise that, even after the most serious of lapses, there may still be a case for giving anyone a second chance.”

Read more here. Note: The lithograph used as an illustration here comes from Vanity Fair, 1872. An original copy is in the Talking Biz News archive.