Ralph Ketner obituary May 31, 2016, Founder of Food Lion, Out of money dropped out of college, Child of the depression no money but blessed with an attitude point of view, I saw problems as opportunities in disguise, Example for young people and management
When I read the Obituary this morning in the Greensboro News Record I had to share it.
I have a connection to Mr. Ketner beyond where I was born.
His story should be an inspiration to anyone, especially young people and to modern day business management.
“SALISBURY Ralph W. Ketner, whose generous spirit created, inspired and encouraged generations of phi lanthropy in Salisbury; and whose business acumen created employment, wealth and security in our region and across the nation, went home to God on Sunday, May 29, 2016. Although a business icon, it was his kind, loving essence that made him so special and beloved by those who called him father, brother, hero, mentor or friend. Mr. Ketner’s wit and heart sparkled through his eyes and smile, and he exuded something special that always sought the good in those he met.Mr. Ketner was president, and the last of a trio of men who founded Food Town (later Food Lion) in 1957. He, his brother Brown and their friend Wilson Smith wanted to start a grocery store in Salisbury, but they had no money. They called friends and strangers from the phone book, to invest $10 a share, and ended up with 125 original investors. An original share of Food Town stock eventually split 19,440 for 1. Each $28 of original investment created a million-dollar return during Mr. Ketner’s tenure. Not only did the Ketners and Smith succeed, they made millionaires of their friends and neighbors. This extraordinary success didn’t happen overnight. In 1967, deciding that “you can’t buy people’s business you’ve got to earn it,” Mr. Ketner, a mathematics whiz, locked himself in a Charlotte hotel room for days, determined to figure out a way to lower prices on grocery items. His book, “Five Fast Pennies,” describes his process of drastically reducing prices and profits and counting on dramatic increases in volume, or “five fast pennies instead of one slow nickel,” to be successful. Food Town had to increase sales by 50 percent to break even, so Mr. Ketner “bet the company” and convinced his board to take the risk. In combination with exceptionally skillful buying and operations, that risk paid off and Food Town/Food Lion became the fastest growing supermarket in the nation, with the stock outperforming Microsoft, Walmart, and even Warren Buffet’s company, Berkshire Hathaway. In the 1970s, the grocery chain grew by 35 percent a year. It expanded across North Carolina and the nation. The Belgian company Delhaize purchased stock in Food Lion during this time period. That relationship continues today. Always looking for cost savings, when it became necessary for Food Town to change its name as it grew, Mr. Ketner came up with the name Food Lion because he’d only need to buy two new letters for store signs.Mr. Ketner’s philosophy was customers first, employees second, stockholders third and management last. Food Town/Food Lion had a profit-sharing program for employees from day one. Twenty percent of pre-tax profits went into the plan and enabled many hourly workers to send their children to college and enjoy a comfortable retirement. True to his philosophy of “management last,” and unlike almost all CEOs, Mr. Ketner never gave himself a stock option which would have made him a billionaire.Mr. Ketner knew firsthand what he called, “the privilege of being underprivileged.” Born September 20, 1920 to the late George Robert Ketner (also a grocer) and Effie Yost Ketner, he lost his mother at age five and his father at age eleven. His stepmother, Allene Ketner, did the best she could during the depression, but young Ralph worked from an early age.Mr. Ketner sold newspapers, learned how to pluck chickens from his grandfather, split logs with a wedge and mallet, worked in brother Glenn’s “Ketner’s” supermarkets and “hopped curb” at Dan Nicholas Ice Cream Parlor. As recently as this May, he still delighted in easily reeling off the 14 flavors of ice cream he sold as a youngster. Having honed the skills in arithmetic he’d use the rest of his life, Mr. Ketner graduated from Boyden in 1937 and enrolled in Tri-State College in Angola, Indiana the college farthest from Salisbury that had sent him a catalog. He later served as its commencement speaker in 1982 where he was awarded an honorary doctorate. Mr. Ketner, by then well known for his colorful language, presented a speech entitled: “Four-Letter Words, the Keys to Success: Home Work, Hard Work, Team Work, Good Luck, Good Lord, and a Good Idea.” Out of money in 1939, he dropped out of college and returned home to work in his brother Glenn’s store in Kannapolis, and later worked for Cannon Mills as an auditor. He volunteered for the army after the attack on Pearl Harbor, serving in North Africa and Italy from 1942 to 1945. Upon his return from the war, Mr. Ketner did everything possible to stay out of the grocery business, working nine jobs he didn’t like before ultimately returning to work for Glenn. When Glenn sold his chain of 25 stores to Winn-Dixie in 1956, Ralph and brother Brown worked briefly for that chain before starting Food Town with former co-worker, Wilson Smith, in 1957. Upon his retirement from Food Lion, Mr. Ketner embarked on a second career of philanthropy that has been nearly unparalleled in this community, both in his personal contribution and in his engendering that spirit in others. Catawba College became a frequent recipient of Mr. Ketner’s giving. The Ketner School of Business opened at Catawba in 1989 and Mr. Ketner, executive in residence, established a third-floor office there where he provided services as “LPCINC” (the Lowest Paid Consultant in North Carolina), providing free consultation to anyone seeking his counsel. He especially loved talking with students about their ideas, and never missed an opportunity to meet with classes. In the early ’90s, Mr. Ketner offered the North Carolina County Association a deal that they couldn’t refuse: each year, he would give a $10,000 cash award to the employee who came up with the best idea of how to improve efficiency of operations in state government. Twenty-five years later, the NC County Association estimated that Mr. Ketner’s $250,000 investment had saved taxpayers more than $38,000,000.Other entities which Mr. Ketner faithfully supported include, but are by no means limited to: Rowan Helping Ministries, Livingstone College, the City of Salisbury, Nazareth Children’s Home, Trident Community Foundation, Charleston Interfaith Crisis Ministries, Queens University, New Horizons, 4-H, Happy’s Farm Inc. and Duke University. His list of awards and honors includes: National CEO Award (Wall Street Journal), USA Entrepreneur of the Year (Price Waterhouse), Who’s Who in Supermarketing, Who’s Who in Finance and Industry, Top Entrepreneurs in U.S. (Venture Magazine), Top Visionaries in the Supermarket Industry (Supermarket News), Lifetime Achievement and Entrepreneur of the Year (Ernst & Young and Merrill Lynch). He was the subject of numerous national magazine articles, among which were: “What’s an LFPINC?” (Forbes, Feb. 16, 1981); “Making Them Rich Down Home,” (Fortune, Aug. 15, 1988) and “You Can Make A Million” (Readers Digest, July 1996).A lifelong member of the First Presbyterian Church of Salisbury, he served as both deacon and elder over his 83-year membership. In 1989, he built 14 homes for low-income families, and did the same in 2002 for ten families in Rowan County. He was N.C. Grocer of the Year in 1972-73; N.C. Retailer of the Year in 1977; received an honorary degree from Catawba in 1981; was Salisbury’s Man of the Year in 1985; received the Adrian L. Shuford Award from Catawba in 1987; bought and renovated Salisbury’s seven-story downtown anchor building, then graciously donated it to the City. Mr. Ketner was an original inductee of the National 4-H Hall of Fame in 2002; and was an original inductee of the Entrepreneurs’ Hall of Fame at Queen’s University in 2011. That same year, he was inducted into the Supermarket News Hall of Fame. In 2015, Catawba and Food Lion produced the documentary “Lessons in Leadership: The Story of Food Lion Co-Founder Ralph W. Ketner.” That same year, he received the State of North Carolina’s top honor, “Order of the Long Leaf Pine,” for extraordinary service to the state. In the forward to his book, “Five Fast Pennies,” Mr. Ketner wrote:”Throughout my life, I faced an uncommon number of obstacles orphan, child of the depression, no money. But I was blessed with an ‘attitude,’ a point of view. I saw ‘problems’ as ‘opportunities in disguise.’ I saw a ‘lemon’ and made ‘lemonade.’ I started ‘thinking’ before ‘starting to work.’ I have never had ambitious goals for myself, but have always done my very best on every job.” To this, a grateful family and community say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”Survivors include: a daughter, Linda Ketner, of Charleston; a son, Robert (Leslie) Ketner of Greensboro; grandchildren Robert (Rebecca) Ketner Jr. of Winston-Salem, Andrew Ketner of New York City, Margaux Ketner of Philadelphia, and Madeline Ketner of Greensboro; sisters Virginia Petty of Greensboro and Dorothy Swing of Salisbury; his former wives, Ruth Hope (mother of his children) of Georgetown, SC and Anne Ketner of Salisbury; multiple nieces and nephews; and in-laws Wayne and Claudette Jones, and, Gary and Cathy Boggs all of Faith, NC.Along with his parents, he was preceded in death by his brothers, Glenn, Ray and Brown Ketner.The funeral will be held at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, June 5, 2016, at Keppel Auditorium, Catawba College, Salisbury, NC, Reverend James Dunkin of First Presbyterian officiating. A reception in the adjacent Crystal Lounge will follow. A private burial service will be held with immediate family. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to: Rowan Helping Ministries, 226 N. Long St., Salisbury, NC 28144; Hospice of Rowan County, 720 Grove St., Salisbury, NC 28144; Glenn A. Kiser Hospice House, 1229 Statesville Blvd., Salisbury, NC 28144.Summersett Funeral Home is serving the Ketner family. Online condolences may be made at www.summersettfuneralhome.com. ”