“In 1932, one man’s will and wisdom rescued his family’s ninety-year-old business. Fifty years later, his son and grandsons forged anew an agile wholesale and distribution company able to hold its own against the biggest players in the industry,” reads the flyleaf of Since 1841: The Story of an Enduring Family Business. The 451-page book is a history of Morris & Dickson, published by the company’s president and fourth-generation family member, Paul Dickson. Family and company histories are prone to self-promoting advertisements for themselves, but in this case, Dickson commissioned a knowledgeable business writer, Martha Holoubek Fitzgerald, to provide a detailed, heavily documented work.
Plus, it’s a heck of a story. Morris & Dickson, although deeply rooted in its Shreveport, LA setting, is a $4-billion/year regional drug and healthcare products distributor, and with this book is celebrating its 175th anniversary. A company around that long has seen—and made—a lot of history of its own, starting with the initial efforts of its founders to establish pharmacy businesses in northern Louisiana (then a stopping point for settlers streaming to the Texas territory), through the Civil War, the Great Depression, a direct hit from a tornado in 1996 and most recently, Hurricane Katrina (as well as the less-remembered Hurricane Rita that followed it a month later in 2005). The difficulties of getting needed medications to patients and hospitals in the aftermath of those storms is well-documented; Since 1841 provides a look at the behind-the-scenes efforts the company dedicated to the recovery.
The origin stories of Morris & Dickson start with John Worthington Morris, a Welsh-born immigrant, who set up a pharmacy in Shreveport in 1841 (the city had become incorporated only in 1839). After several reorganizations—and after surviving through the Civil War—the company was joined by a New Orleans physician and druggist, Samuel Augustus Dickson. After the death of T. H. Morris (John Worthington’s brother) in 1894, the company reincorporated as Morris & Dickson; a last heir, Allen Morris, left the company and, starting in February 1901, “the company would be in the hands of a new mercantile dynasty.”
The book also has some up-to-the minute details of trends in US drug distribution: the company’s effort in serializing product to meet the requirements of the Drug Supply Chain Security Act; controlled-substances distribution; and authorized-distributor relationships with manufacturers. Striding across most of the 20th century at the company was Markham Allen Dickson Sr., chairman and president, who passed away in 2014.
“For five generations, the Dickson family has remained united by a driving purpose: to be a successful regional distributor of pharmaceuticals and a civic leader in the communities the family serves from its base in Shreveport in the Red River valley of northwest Louisiana,” writes John Davis, faculty chair, Families in Business Executive Education Program, Harvard Business School, in a forward to the book. “These communities,” he goes on to say, “need advocates like the Dicksons. Most people in rural communities across America get their primary healthcare products from independent pharmacies like those served by Morris & Dickson. . .We may forget that the ‘big box’ model doesn’t serve everyone in need, but the Dicksons never forget.”
Since 1841 is available for purchase at Amazon.com.