Last Updated Apr 24, 2009 9:12 AM EDT
But not for long.
What he did to survive provides lessons for us today, says Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn.
Relating the Heinz story to the Wall Street Journal, Koehn says that after selling his parents' furniture to settle liens on his equipment, Heinz was back in business just three months later. The brilliant salesman convinced former employees to work for delayed pay, and equipment vendors to accept half of what he was paying them before in rent.
Koehn sees four lessons for modern day business folk:
- "The first lesson is: Get yourself into business with very trustworthy people, because one of the reasons the (Heinz) business goes quickly bankrupt in the credit crisis is because his partners basically bail out on him.
- "Second, make sure you understand what your demand is.
- "Third, collect your accounts receivable quickly.
- "And innovation is critical. Heinz, by bringing out ketchup and a bunch of other related products, created and fed a market."