A Brand Called Ralph

It was a rough week. We put a good man to rest. He was well-liked by just about everyone who ever met him. If he couldn’t make you smile, he’d just try harder. He was a great communicator, yet most underestimated his great intelligence. His career started out in entertainment and he ended up in politics. His ability to make friends and develop relationships was legendary in the circles he moved in.

You might think I’m talking about President Ronald Reagan. Guess again.

Ralph Olsen’s funeral was a standing-room-only affair. The crowd included small children, senior citizens and everyone in between.

While he certainly had his health problems, I’m convinced that the stress of never really settling into a career where his talents could be recognized and rewarded also contributed to the heart attack that took Ralph’s life at the age of 48.

Today’s corporate mentality rewards people who “get things done” and ignores those who foster good-will and cement long-standing relationships. Ralph wasn’t the “get things done” kind of guy. He was the guy who made the rest of us feel good about the things getting done. He was the guy who could strike up a conversation with anyone and make them glad that he did. If you never met Ralph, you missed out.

Two corporations had the chance in the last year to recognize Ralph’s unique talent and compensate him for the tremendous value he brought to the table. Neither did. They treated him just like every other hourly employee. When Cabela’s didn’t pay him what he was worth, he started moonlighting at Wal-Mart (along with a couple of other ongoing sidelines). Then, stepping away from his strengths, shortly before his death he took a position selling for a credit collection agency.

Message to corporate America: You all need a Ralph in the front lines striking up friendly conversations with your customers. You need to protect them, compensate them and recognize their worth.

When Ralph drove the Cabela van to the airport to pick up a jet-load of wealthy customers, do you think they felt the same way about the company as they would if any old 18-year-old kid was their driver? Do you think just maybe their shopping bags were a bit fuller because of a guy like Ralph? There were customers who asked if Ralph was Mr. Cabela because of his enthusiasm for the store. Question for Cabela’s: Don’t you wish people thought all of your employees were “Mr. Cabela?”

Rest in Peace Ralph. Glad to have known you all these years. Rest in Peace.

2 thoughts on “A Brand Called Ralph

  1. Yvonne DiVita

    Employees are the lifeblood of any company. That so many companies are insensitive to employee needs, is a crime in this country. As someone writing a business plan and knowing I need to include the ‘executive bios’, I bristle at the thought that executive bios are more important than employee comments. I was an employee for many years before becoming a business owner. The employees are the ones that dictate success or failure. Business plans should include input from employees, or those folks who may become employees. Good executives know that their employees are worth more than gold. I hope I never forget that. Good-bye, Ralph. Wish I could’ve known you.

  2. Julie Dimmick

    Thanks Dave, for that very well written piece about Ralph…(or Kent as some of us knew him by)

    His death was a sad wake up call to me about living one’s dreams and doing the things that really matter.


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