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Tuesday, Apr 23, 2024


From as far as back as I can remember, if something didn’t make sense to me, I couldn’t help but challenge it.

One thing I didn’t like was public speaking, which gave me anxiety. A teacher said my self-esteem was about as low as you can go.  

It was as if I had a little guy on my shoulder, constantly telling me I wasn’t any good.  The teacher told me that unless I dealt directly with this guy, he’d be sitting there for the rest of my life.  But if I learned to quiet him down, he would no longer be able to influence me. This guy on your shoulder will keep showing his ugly face many times in the future.  The only way to get rid of him is to force yourself to engage in exactly the situations that scare you.

In my first job after graduating from college, I worked in a five-person engineering department. I was the low man on the totem pole, eager to climb his way up.  The benefit of a small team within a small company was I could learn a lot about many aspects of running a business.

I quickly realized that sometimes it is more important to learn from the wrong ways of running a business – and then correct course – than have someone teach you the right ways from the start.

With business growth also came my personal and professional growth.  To guide my future decisions, I asked myself, “What type of businessman do I want to be?”  And my answer was clear: Integrity was the most important value to uphold.

I reasoned that the only way to compete with Taiwan, and now with China, was to create a very focused product line, which would greatly enhance production efficiency resulting in much lower costs.  Furthermore, in order to be profitable selling to giant companies like The Home Depot, we had to offer a program they could not get from any other U.S. manufacturer.  In other words, we had to be irreplaceable.

To compete with China, my plan resulted in our ability to have selling prices within 5% to 10% of China’s versus being almost twice as much.  In addition, we would have no letter of credit requirement, have thirty-day payment terms, provide delivery in two weeks rather ninety days, which was the turnaround time from China, and offer products of higher quality.

I was in Shanghai on vacation.  As an endlessly curious company owner, which speaks to the tenets “live and learn” and “know the competition,” I was interested in touring some cabinet factories.

I recall touring one particular factory that had 363 employees making vanity cabinets. Based on RSI’s lean-and-mean system, I calculated that we were able to turn out the same number of cabinets with fewer than 80 people.

While RSI was ready to duke it out with Chinese manufacturers, most American cabinet manufacturers have thrown in the towel.  Rather than dig deep within themselves and tap into their competitive drive, they ran to Uncle Sam for help.  Shame on them!

I am opposed to U.S. government intervention, except in those countries playing games that result in practices counter to free trade.  Deferring to Uncle Sam to apply tariffs rewards incompetent U.S. manufacturers, reduces competition and the game-changing creativity it inspires, and hurts U.S. consumers.  But most importantly, protectionism runs counter to the capitalist vision of our country that, for generations, has roused people around the globe to reach their highest potential.

When Warren Buffett expressed an interest in RSI, he was cordial, to the point, and absolutely devoid of politics. The CEO of Berkshire Hathaway was exactly as I had imagined him to be. The same day that he received my executive summary, he called me.
“Ron, you’ve got a great company. I am so impressed. How in the hell do you make these kinds of margins, despite the tough business environment you’re in?”

When one of the greatest investors in history gives you a sincere compliment, you take a second to let the message settle in. Especially because you know he’s a zero-percent bullsh*tter.

But he decided not to invest in RSI because he said that it would be difficult to replace me when I left the company.  

Business can be a battlefield, and I have decades of stories and the mental scar tissue to prove it.  For instance, negotiating with The Home Depot was not easy. Its founders were tough as nails, but they were always fair and didn’t resort to politics, pettiness, or underhanded tactics. In these negotiations, most of the time, both RSI and our customers won, which is what good deals are about.

Disagreement – even when it’s heated – ensures that alternative solutions are always heard and considered.  When offered respectfully and professionally, differing points of view help, not hurt, our business.

To laugh at yourself can be the funniest humor.  My very closest friends were a mixture of Italian, Black and Asian, and we would tease each other all the time with jokes that today could be considered racist.  But because of the love and respect that we had for one another, they were not taken that way.

In 2002, I started the Simon Scholars program, whose mission is to give scholarships to disadvantaged high school students.  Unlike most scholarships that provide only college support, our program begins during the students’ junior year in high school.  

Many of our students had no hope of attending college, so by reaching them in high school, we broaden the horizons of these first-generation students, guide them through this unfamiliar and often scary territory, and support them in transitioning to college and beyond, as well as provide financial aid.

I steadfastly reject any disruptive force that runs counter to our country’s capitalist values.  The Simon Scholars program exists today only as a result of what America has to offer.  And I’m proud that this organization will help instill in others for generations to come the love and respect for my country that has been my guiding light.

I thank my parents for passing on to me not the poison of resentment but, rather, the passion of what is possible here.  They were true patriots because they experienced America’s ugly side yet focused on the greatness that far outshone the darkness.

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