The Saga of Saga

In the wake of World War II, Bill Scandling attended Hobart College on the G.I. Bill. While there, he met two fellow students in similar situations, Hunk Anderson and Willie Laughlin. These three friends, finding that the government’s largess was inadequate to support them, put their entrepreneurial spirits to work, eventually settling on institutional food service. Their initial contract to feed the men of Hobart quickly grew to include another to feed the women of neighboring William Smith College, eventually blossoming into contracts with colleges around the country and even in other nations. Their corporation, Saga, branched off into other areas, providing food services in other institutional settings, such as hospitals, and buying up a variety of restaurant chains.

Throughout its first three decades, and despite its phenomenal growth, Scandling, Anderson, and Laughlin maintained active roles in managing the corporation, convinced that Saga’s success grew directly out of their personal commitment to excellence and dedication to their customers, employees, and suppliers. THE SAGA OF SAGA is filled with different variations on the Saga Creed, which the management team seemed to take very much to heart.

Finally, in 1978, the company’s founders, discovering that their interests had begun to diverge and that their energies were no longer fully devoted to their business, turned the reins of Saga over to outside professional managers. The new management, dedicated to short-term profits and devoid of the founders’ commitment to long-term relationships, weakened Saga to the point that, as publicly held corporation, it became vulnerable to outside attack. In 1986, Saga was bought out by Marriott Corporation, which immediately dismantled it. To Bill Scandling—and certainly to the hundreds of Saga employees who lost their jobs as a consequence of the takeover—this was an unforgettable tragedy. Scandling has done a fine job of recounting the rise and fall of what was, as his book’s subtitle indicates, an archetypal American aspiration.