The walls and surface areas of Grenville George “G.G.” Sutcliffe’s office at Husky Corporation in the Pacific Industrial Park tell the story of his life — from his experiences in the Special Forces during Vietnam to chasing solar eclipses around the world, from piloting his own Viking airplane to being a high-performance driving instructor for the Porsche and BMW clubs at Gateway International Raceway just east of St. Louis.
His lifelong love for travel is reflected both in the souvenirs displayed around the room and the maps hanging on the wall, which also showcase his interest in history.
“This map shows the U.S. . . . when we were getting ready to fight with Britain over 54 40,” said Sutcliffe, referring to the line of latitude marking the northern boundary of the Oregon territory. “It shows the British interpretation of North America versus the American interpretation.”
As president and majority owner of Husky, a petroleum dispensing products company that makes fuel pump nozzles, swivels, safety brakes and accessories for service stations, Sutcliffe doesn’t get to travel as much as he used to, but he enjoys the work so much that at age 74 he puts in around 50 hours a week at the office, and that doesn’t include the time he spends discussing the family business at home with his wife, Dianne, and their children, three of whom work at Husky.
When Sutcliffe joined Husky in 1971, sales reached $375,000. Last year, that number was nearly $50 million. Now, Sutcliffe’s goal is to double that before he retires.
It’s advice that was given to him from a New Haven businessman back in ’71. He suggested the company’s goals be to reach $1 million in annual sales (which it did in ’73-’74 with the unleaded gas change-out), then $1 million a month in sales (which it did in ’92-’93 with vapor recovery installations), and finally $100 million in annual sales.
Husky made that its official goal in 2010, when sales were around $20 million a year. Sutcliffe had hoped to reach that figure by 2020, but now he thinks it may take a little longer.
“But we’ll get there,” he said, with a smile.
Based on his life story, you can bet on that.
Sutcliffe Specialty Company
Sutcliffe is the oldest of four children and the only son born to Eugene and Hazel Sutcliffe. Eugene Sutcliffe was an athlete when he was young, more specifically a boxer, said G.G. He never graduated from college, but worked at gas stations during the 1930s.
He saw countless cars scratched by the clunky metal fuel nozzles, but none of the drivers ever seemed to mind. After World War II, that mindset changed. People began taking more pride in their cars and how they were handled.
Recognizing a need, Eugene Sutcliffe began working out of the basement of his home in Richmond Heights producing a single rubber strap to act as a guard between the nozzle and the car. His first sales trip from St. Louis to New Orleans wasn’t very successful, but dinner at a Chinese restaurant seemed to change his luck.
“He made it from St. Louis to New Orleans and hadn’t sold a thing,” said G.G Sutcliffe. “Then he went into a Chinese restaurant for dinner, and in the gift shop he saw this Chinese figurine, Ho Tai, which means good luck. You rub his tummy for good luck.
“Dad bought that, rubbed his tummy, went on through Louisiana and Florida, and by the time he got to northern Florida, he’d sold everything he had and had my mom put together a rush shipment. I remember him coming home with all of these souvenirs. It was a big celebration, and we were off and running from that point on,” said G.G.
The Sutcliffe Specialty Company was a small operation when it launched in 1947, but it grew steadily.
“The kitchen table is where my dad and another guy would meet for sales meetings in the morning,” recalled Sutcliffe. “My mom would do the accounting.”
“The first automatic nozzles had just been invented, and they didn’t work very well at all, so as Dad was selling the guards, the station owners would ask him if he could rebuild the nozzles or make them work,” said G.G. “That’s how we started rebuilding them in the basement of the house.”
The Sutcliffes incorporated the business in the early 1960s and renamed it Husky Corporation, as a tribute to the Samoyed husky dog, Rip, who had repeatedly accompanied Eugene Sutcliffe on his sales trips. The dog breed has been in the family for more than 100 years now, G.G. noted.
“It’s the perfect mascot,” he told The Missourian in 1997, on Husky’s 50th anniversary. “They are clean, powerful and friendly, just like the company.”
Today, an oil painting of “Rip,” the original husky who accompanied Eugene on his travels, hangs on a wall inside the company’s headquarters in Pacific.
World Travels Provide Education, Experience
For G.G. Sutcliffe, his interest in traveling began in childhood. He had aunts and uncles who lived in far corners of the country, and one who would crew out as a first mate on ships. “So I’d be getting letters from all over the world about their adventures,” he said. “So even though I wasn’t out of the country, I was exposed internationally that way, and my parents always seemed to have a cast of characters for friends.”
Those included an architect who had graduated from the Sorbonne in Paris and a friend’s father who, during the Russian Revolution, fled east, ended up in Mongolia and later became a scribe for some Chinese warlords.
Hearing about their experiences left an impression on Sutcliffe, who soaked up all the news and information from them that he could. After graduating from Kirkwood High School in 1962, Sutcliffe enrolled at a couple of different colleges, but never stayed for very long. He was thrown out of Central Methodist College at the end of his first year and thrown out of Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau after one semester.
“I had a great time,” he said with a laugh.
His friend Simon also had gotten thrown out of his college, Dartmouth University, so the two, who were around 20 years old, decided to pursue a different path for a while.
“We decided to go to Switzerland and get jobs in a ski lodge,” said Sutcliffe.
The move came as a surprise to their parents, but the two were hard workers and things went smoothly.
After spending a ski season working at a hotel in Switzerland, Sutcliffe and his friend decided they wanted to see the pyramids, so they bought a Citroën Deux Chevaux or “the French equivalent of a Volkswagen Beatle” and, after picking up a Brazilian hitchhiker, drove it around Italy, into what was then Yugoslavia, on to Greece, across the Middle East and ended up in Egypt, where Sutcliffe learned a lesson in bartering.
“When we got to Alexandria, a kid came over to us with a fifth of Black & White Scotch, and we hadn’t had any Scotch since we left Switzerland, so I traded him I think three packs of these fine Swiss cigarettes I had for the bottle of whisky,” Sutcliffe recalled. “Then I see this group of Egyptian guys laughing and pointing at us . . . They informed me I had just bought either a bottle of Nile water or camel urine. I turned the bottle over and you could see where a hole had been drilled to empty the whisky then filled back up and resealed.”
Three days later in Cairo at the old Egyptian bazaar, he traded that “whisky” for a few bottles of perfume.
From there, he made his way to Cyprus, Beirut and then Damascus the day after they hanged an Israel spy.
“Things were really tense,” he said, but he was never afraid for his safety. “One of the things I’d gotten thrown out of school for was fighting. I was a boxer and a wrestler. So I wasn’t afraid.”
After reading about the Kurdish rebellion going on in Northern Iraq, Sutcliffe and his girlfriend packed up their things and headed there next, hitchhiking their way through Palmyra, Syria, up to Mosul and Baghdad.
“We saw some really neat stuff,” he said, but also noting the couple ran into trouble with some Arabs in Palmyra and ended up being rescued by a Christian family who helped them get around Iraq safely.
“That’s how we made it all around northern Iraq,” he said. “Christian families were taking us in, feeding us, teaching us some Arabic.”
By the time he made his way to the American Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, the life Sutcliffe had left behind in America caught up with him. He found a telegram from his parents, his small tax refund and a draft notice in the mail that had been forwarded to him there.
Talked His Way Into OCS
Even 50 some years after he traveled through the Middle East, Sutcliffe can still speak enough conversational Arabic to greet the Syrian refugees working at a farmers market in St. Louis. He can do the same in French, German and Spanish — an ability that ended up helping him get into the Army’s Officer Candidate School.
After completing basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, where Sutcliffe had been made an acting platoon sergeant, he found himself in a tough spot the night before graduation. A confrontation over use of a public telephone ended with him facing a court-martial the next morning.
“I started talking to the captain, who had already done one tour in Vietnam, about the Kurdish rebellion in Northern Iraq, getting shot at on the Jordanian-Israeli border, and how this Army needed officers like me, so he bit his tongue, told me to come back that afternoon,” said Sutcliffe “I came back, and he had reduced the court-martial charge.”
He kept talking and further improved his position.
“It was no place for modesty,” Sutcliffe remarked.
Looking back, he hangs his head at his memories from OCS, which he described as “the most miserable experience of my life.
“Forty-two of us started in our platoon, but only 17 graduated,” he said. “They pushed you so hard. I didn’t know I was going to make it until my parents pinned my gold bar on me 22 weeks later.”
The executive officer, or second in charge, of Sutcliffe’s OCS company was Rick Rescorla, who many people today know for his heroics in helping more than 2,000 Morgan Stanley employees escape the World Trade Center’s south tower on Sept. 11, 2001, before it collapsed. But long before that, Rescorla had been in the Battle of Ia Drang, the first major battle between the U.S. Army and the North Vietnamese Army.
“As my parents were pinning the bars on me, Lt. Rescorla came over and said, ‘He’s going to make a good officer,’ ” Sutcliffe recalled.
Wounded at Khe Sanh
After graduating OCS, Sutcliffe was sent to the U.S. Army Airborne School for paratrooper training and from there he was assigned to the Third Special Forces group at Fort Bragg as a second lieutenant.
In Vietnam, Sutcliffe was assigned to Special Operation Group, FOB-3 in Khe Sanh.
“At the time, it was the provincial headquarters for the South Vietnamese,” he said. “There was a Marine combat base outside of town, where our forward operation base was.”
He arrived Jan. 10, 1968. The next day, he was made a first lieutenant, “put in as the replacement commander of what was called a Hatchet Force, a platoon-sized element made up of American NCOs, my captain and tribesmen.
“Very interesting group,” Sutcliffe recalled. “It’s all declassified now, but what we did was reconnaissance and raiding in Laos and Cambodia . . . rescuing pilots when they came down in Laos, Cambodia, South or North Vietnam. Wherever a pilot was down, we were the first responders for him.”
Then the siege started. Holding up a Gary Lucy print of a fiery scene from the Civil War on the Mississippi River, “Battle of Island No. 10, 1862,” Sutcliffe said it was a similar scene at Khe Sanh.
“This is what it looked like the night the NVA blew up the Marine ammunition at Khe Sanh,” he said. “It was fog, all these explosions going off, shrapnel is sailing past.”
Sutcliffe was wounded Jan. 29, 1968.
“One of my recon teams was going into Khe Sanh . . . they made it out as far as this hilltop called 471, where they got caught . . . one guy had been cut in two with a machine gun, and another guy, we didn’t know for sure what had happened to him.
“We went out to rescue anyone who was still alive. And we knew they would be waiting, and we also knew they knew we’d be coming. Only I don’t think they expected us to come by air. Went in with Vietnamese pilots. Circled the hilltop, came down.”
After they were able to establish a perimeter, the North Vietnamese opened fire.
Sutcliffe took advantage of a momentary lull in the fighting to try to get a position on his compass of where a machine gun was so they could direct fire on it.
“I took a chance, I rolled up on a knee with my compass, as I shot an azimuth on it, I told them where the gun was and with that they covered me with grenades,” he said.
The chunk of shrapnel that went through his neck and shoulder is now under glass in a framed display hanging on a wall in his office.
“It missed my jugular vein, missed my carotid artery, and came to rest on top of the nerve plexus of my shoulder, but didn’t penetrate it,” said Sutcliffe.
“It was like getting hit across the shoulders and throat with a baseball bat,” he said.
After being wounded, Sutcliffe returned home to heal. By the time he was fit for service again, he was assigned a new duty.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, the siege at Ka Sahn was lifted, and Lyndon Johnson announced he wasn’t going to run for the presidency — it was like the world had changed,” said Sutcliffe. “Riots were breaking out all over. So instead of being assigned to Special Forces, I was assigned to the Sixth Armored Cavalry of Fort Meade, Md., for riot control duty in D.C. that summer.”
Sutcliffe’s service in the Army was brief, relatively speaking, but it left an impression on him. Today his cellphone ringtone is “To the Colors” bugle call.
Earns Degree From Mizzou
After completing his service in the Army, Sutcliffe next got serious about completing his education. He had an interest in studying medicine and applied to two medical schools in Australia, as well as the University of Washington and the University of Arizona.
“I was rejected by all of them,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Time was running short. I got out (of the Army) in December 1968, right before Christmas. As soon as I got those rejection letters, I tried Mizzou.
“I had 45 credit hours. They discounted 30 of them for grades. So I had 15 hours,” he said. “I had been on social probation, scholastic probation, and I started talking. I told them I was a disabled war hero. I told them what all I had done, and they gave me like 30 hours of political science credits for OCS Special Forces school time and service, on the condition that I go see one of the resident psychologists to help me readjust to civilian life.”
At the University of Missouri-Columbia, Sutcliffe was eager to do well and wanted to give himself the best opportunity. So he purposely sought out students from China and India to be his roommates.
“I had lived out of the country with foreigners, and I literally felt more comfortable with them than I did hanging out with Americans,” said Sutcliffe, noting he ended up on the honor roll that semester. “I got in a groove.”
It wasn’t long before he switched over from premed to the business school. He earned a degree in business administration and went to work for the family business in 1971, serving as a vice president in charge of sales and engineering.
There were only 12 employees at the time, which included Sutcliffe and his parents.
‘Pacific Was Good to Us’
Husky moved to Pacific in spring 1973, attracted by a good deal on the land — 2 acres at 10 cents a square foot.
Husky was the first company to move into Pacific’s industrial park, Sutcliffe recalled. And the community embraced them for it.
“Pacific was good to us, and Franklin County was good to us,” he said. “The way the community and the county worked with us, and almost immediately I started attracting good people from Pacific, Washington, Union, St. Clair . . . and it just worked out really well for us.”
Two Million Units a Year Out of Pacific
Today Husky employs around 170 people at its two facilities in Pacific. Around 110 work in the factory on two shifts. A third shift is completely automated.
Husky’s two facilities include a 60,000-square-foot building that is comprised mostly of factory space and an 80,000-square-foot building that features conference rooms, sales offices and a gym for the employees.
The company produces around 2 million units a year at the factory in Pacific for customers all around the world. Among them are around 20,000 conventional nozzles a month; 18,000 swivels a month; 15,000 breakaway connectors a month; and a variety of hose: everything from gasoline and curb pump hose to large aviation fueling hoses.
Husky has been a leader in the industry from the beginning and today holds more than 75 patents, both domestic and international. G.G. Sutcliffe has 13 of those patents. The one he’s most proud of is the Multi-Plane Swivel Connector that he invented in 1986.
“This thing really worked and became the industry standard,” he said, holding the original wooden prototype in his hand. “It goes at the bottom of the nozzle and swivels in this plane and this plane so it breaks the bulk of the hose and makes it a lot easier to handle and makes the hose last a lot longer.
“Almost every hose has a swivel on it,” he said.
Sutcliffe received his last patent around two or three years ago. Although he’s still deeply involved in the company’s creative process, most of his time is spent in administration, regulation and litigation.
He also likes to spend time on the factory floor talking to the employees and the foreman to keep track of how things are going and also to make sure people understand they can come to him with concerns or issues.
Around 20 years ago, Husky revamped its manufacturing process to get a tighter control on quality. It required an entire culture change, said Sutcliffe, but it was worth it.
“Today we have something like 99 percent efficiency on first pass analysis, which is the products going down the line, how many test good at the end of the line,” he said.
Man of Many Hobbies
Sutcliffe, who lives in Villa Ridge, is the epitome of the saying, “Work Hard and Play Harder.” He is a commercial rated pilot, who built his own plane (since donated to Linn Tech for its aviation program) and owns two others.
His job as a high-performance driving instructor only calls on him two or three times a year.
“I had raced my sports cars when I was young. I thought I was the world’s greatest driver,” he remarked. “After one day on the track with a qualified instructor I found out I didn’t know how to drive, but I kept at it. After about 10 years, they asked me to become an instructor and I went to instructor school.”
His love for total solar eclipses has taken him all over the world, but the one that occurred over Franklin County Aug. 21, 2017, gave him an opportunity to share the rare experience with all of his employees at Husky.
“We bought visors for everyone here, closed down the factory, had them bring in their families and had a watch party outside,” said Sutcliffe with a smile. “It was great!”
His passion for the outdoors is as strong as ever, and Sutcliffe supports that by serving on the board at Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit. He and his wife have been members of the Missouri Botanical Garden for years and friends with John Behrer, the former director of Shaw Nature Reserve, and Peter Wyse Jackson, president of the Missouri Botanial Garden.
When Quinn Long became the new director at Shaw Nature Reserve, Sutcliffe found they had a lot in common — racing kayaks and white-water rafting. So when he asked if Sutcliffe would serve on the board, he was happy to oblige.
The Sutcliffes, who make time to work out in the gym on Husky’s campus, also like to get exercise outdoors when they can. Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis and Shaw Nature Reserve, which is much closer to home, are perfect places to get in a good run, walk or hike.