Today: Ray Anderson, a successful businessman who became a top environmentalist.
The world is filled with industrialists who damage the planet while making money, but Ray Anderson was not one of them. In 1973, after getting passed over for promotions at Callaway Mills, 39 year old Ray left and with just 15 people started Atlanta based Interface, Inc. which grew into the world’s biggest carpet-tile manufacturer. Today its products are installed across the globe and Interface has $1.1 billion in annual sales and employs 4,000 people.
But in 1994, 60 year old Ray read, “The Ecology of Commerce” by Paul Hawken, and he was “dumbfounded,” realizing Interface’s oil based products were an environmental hazard. “It was an epiphanic spear in my heart, a life changing moment,” he told the Guardian of London in a 2006 interview. “I realized I was a plunderer and it was not a legacy I wanted to leave behind.”
After restructuring its manufacturing processes and products, Interface not only slashed its greenhouse gasses, but its use of fossil fuels, water and its waste being dumped into landfills. The result was stunning. Interface not only became an environmental leader, it doubled its profits.
Ray avidly wrote of this phenomenon and travelled extensively telling businesspeople the benefits of becoming environmentalists, explaining how changing their practices now could help their firms and humanity. It was something Ray passionately pursued for the rest of his life.
But on August 8th, 2011 Ray lost his bout with cancer and passed away at the age of 77. He is survived by his wife of 27 years, Patricia Adams Anderson and two daughters by his first wife, and by five grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
But that is not the end of our story. When I contacted the firm to conduct interviews, I learned a great deal more about this remarkable man. One of the receptionists, Diane Allen, who’s been there 23 years, described how Ray encouraged a loving, family oriented company, one in which people often hug one another and greet others with smiles and handshakes. She explained that Ray set the example by the respect and warmth with which he treated others and how he “took time to know you as a person” and recalled names and important family details. She wished she could hug him that moment as she and others often did when he walked in the door.
Jo Ann Bachman, Ray’s 12 year executive assistant explained how by its environmental actions, Interface attracted likeminded people “dedicated to a higher purpose.” She said everyone called him “Ray or Mr. A” for he was unpretentious and warm and welcoming. She described him as a “Southern gentleman.” He was “extremely intelligent, soft spoken but ha (d) so much to say.”
And here is one of the nicest things of all and something I rarely hear about a CEO: “People keep calling,” Jo Ann said. “They want to say how much his words meant to (them) and how much he changed their lives and how some of them even changed their careers. (In some cases they) got into some kind of environmental work, to do what Ray would have liked them to do.” Thanks to this memorable man, they sought a greater purpose in life.
Success Tip of the Week:
As Ray showed us, one person can make a huge difference in the lives of others in so many different ways if one sincerely desires to do so.
If you would like to know more about Ray and about Interface, please visit http://www.interfaceglobal.com/. For a tribute from the current CEO, Dan Hendrix, please see “Thank you, Ray Anderson, for all you did,” the Atlanta Business Journal. In addition please see Ray’s obits in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times
In the next KazanToday:
How a man overcame 25 years of rejections to attain his dream.