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Author: Andy Goldstein, NASBA Electronic Media Specialist and Webmaster
Posted: May 15, 2012

When Ken Melrose took over as CEO of the Toro Company in 1983, it was two years after the company had its worst year in sales, posting its first loss in 35 years. Toro was hemorrhaging so heavily in fact, that when Melrose was appointed CEO, many believed Toro was past the point of saving.

But Melrose was unfazed, and instantly took to dramatic action. He cut executive perks and reduced the size of the workforce by 57 percent. Then, he initiated a change in Toro's corporate culture, making it an organization that empowered and trusted its employees, instilling value in its workers.

During his time as Chairman and CEO, Toro's sales grew drastically, from about $250 million in 1983 to $1.7 billion in 2005. This change did not happen overnight. Through patience and longevity, Melrose proved that running an organization with character and corporate soul can lead to financial success.

It is this perseverance and dedication to ethical leadership that caught the eye of NASBA's Center for the Public Trust (CPT); and in 2006, the organization honored Melrose as its first recipient of the Being a Difference Award. In receiving the award, Melrose set a high bar by which all future recipients of the award would be measured.

After winning the Being a Difference Award, Melrose maintained an active leadership role in several entities.

Melrose retired as CEO from Toro in 2005, and as Chairman in 2006. Following his retirement, Melrose created a company called Leading by Serving, LLC, whose mission is to advance the principles of servant leadership in organizations.

"The servant-leader model requires a change in attitude more than structure," Melrose said. "To operate in this mode, leaders have to shed their egos and deeply embrace the belief that people perform best in an atmosphere of freedom and trust."

Melrose also served on the board of the Center for Ethical Business Cultures, was a faculty member at the Opus School of Business at the University of St. Thomas and is a member of the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame.

In February 2012, the Kendrick B. Melrose Family Foundation donated $1 million to the Environmental Institute for Golf (EIFG). The EIFG is the philanthropic organization of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. Its mission is to foster sustainability through research, awareness, education, programs and scholarships for the benefit of golf course management professionals, golf facilities and the game.

This generous donation was given to support the professional development of golf course superintendents, leading to the creation of the Melrose Leadership Academy. Through an application and selection process, 20 individuals will be selected to participate, beginning in 2013. The academy will offer education specific to risk management (health, safety and environmental compliance), operational efficiency, business and environmental stewardship.

"I have a profound respect for golf course superintendents and their role in the game of golf," Melrose said at the time of the donation. "Golf course management has become an increasingly more difficult profession, so to be able to provide resources to enhance superintendents' professional development has been very important to me."

Continuing the overwhelming display of philanthropy, Melrose issued the largest single donation ever made to the Orange County Library System in Orlando, FL on April 16 of this year. Given in honor of his mother, Dorothy Lumley Melrose, who was a lifelong proponent of learning, the gift will be used to create the Dorothy Lumley Melrose Center for Technology, Innovation & Creativity. The Center will house labs for visual arts and filming, digital media, graphic design and audio engineering. This donation is important to Melrose because he grew up in Orlando, and his mother became the first female stockbroker in the city.

"Both of my parents used to tell me that the purpose of life is to serve others," Melrose said. "My dad's way of serving was in the military. My mother's way of serving was in Orlando."

A video of the gift announcement for the Dorothy Lumley Melrose Center for Technology, Innovation & Creativity is available below.

In his 1995 book, Making the Grass Greener on Your Side, a CEO's Journey to Leading by Serving, Melrose writes that leadership is dynamic and active, always changing, always growing. Here's to many more years of Ken Melrose "Being a Difference," and continuing to teach valuable lessons about ethical leadership through his actions.

"2005 Minnesota Business Hall of Fame" Twin Cities Business
"Center for Ethical Business Cultures – Leader as Servant" July 1996
"Kendrick B. Melrose Family Foundation donates $1M to the Environmental Institute for Golf" GCSAA 2-28-12
"$1 million donation will Transform Orlando Library Into Digital Playground" Orlando Sentinel 4-16-12

Other Suggested Reading

What is Servant Leadership?

Princeton University Faith and Work Initiative

An Interview with Ken Melrose