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Published: Saturday, 5/9/2009

Chairman leaves Andersons at age 80

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

The ubiquitous head of one of the region s most-beloved, family run companies is hanging up his corporate overalls.

But he still insists on mowing his own grass.

Richard Dick Anderson, the 80-year-old chairman of The Andersons Inc., announced Friday he is stepping down immediately from his role atop the company begun by his father and five siblings 62 years ago.

He will now carry the ceremonial role of chairman emeritus, but will no longer be a member of the company s board of directors.

After a brief, understated announcement to shareholders that he was stepping down from the $3.5 billion company he has headed since 1986, Mr. Anderson rushed home to Maumee to climb atop his mower and began cutting his eight acres of grass. He ll spend much of this weekend as a volunteer swinging a hammer, building starter homes with the Maumee Valley Chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

It s been therapy for me. I love doing it. I had a farm background, and I ve always loved working with my hands, Mr. Anderson said as he prepped for the mowing task.

I m feeling like Brett Favre, he joked of the attention surrounding his retirement. I m still going to go to work every day. I m so connected to the community, and there are plenty of things to do right now and people that need help.

Mr. Anderson said his recent milestone birthday on Good Friday made him realize that he s slowing down a bit. He said the thing he ll miss most about working at The Andersons is his relationships with so many people over the years.

The associations with all the different people are the heart of it. I m deeply grateful for all those associations, Mr. Anderson said. I ve learned something every day, and that is due to all those associations.

The youngest child of the late Harold Anderson, Dick Anderson started in 1947 as a crew boss on the construction of the company s first grain elevator in Maumee.

He was 18 years old, and his father had pulled him out of high school to help on the family farm while his older brothers went off to fight in World War II. After his family was reunited, Mr. Anderson went back and finished school and spent two years in the armed services himself. He later earned a degree from Michigan State University.

When he came back from the service, Mr. Anderson s father asked his youngest son to help manage The Andersons Warehouse Market, the Maumee precursor of what later grew to a chain of The Andersons General Stores.

It was an opportunity to sell to the farmers that were selling grain to us. I took ahold of that with a vengeance, he said. The Maumee store was one of the best individual properties that we ve ever had. It s tough now, with the overbuilding in retail and the recession, but the retail stores are predominant for the visibility that they bring the company.

He worked his way up through the business over the decades as his older brothers took their turns at the helm of what became a multibillion dollar, multifaceted conglomerate which grew to stretch far beyond its initial roots in agriculture.

The Andersons, which had remained in the private hands of its namesake family all of whom were handed equal shares for nearly 50 years, sold stock to the public in February, 1996, under Mr. Anderson s direction.

With each successive generation, the company s previous partnership organization got pretty complicated, Mr. Anderson said. We still have a lot of Andersons involved in the company, but there was just no way to accommodate that number of partnerships. It was almost a unanimous decision to take the company public.

The company now has facilities or holdings in 12 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico and employs about 3,000 people at 50 different locations. Last year, it had revenues of $3.5 billion.

In addition to his position as chairman of his own company, Mr. Anderson has served on a large number of public and philanthropic boards throughout the region. He has given up many of them, but still remains on the board of Sauder Woodworking Co. and Sauder Village, the Toledo Symphony, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the Toledo Community Foundation.

Kevin Sauder, president and chief executive officer of Sauder Woodworking Co. in Archbold, said Mr. Anderson brings many qualities and experiences to Sauder s board.

With the businesses that they re in, retail and grain and commodities, and it being a publicly held company, he has a sense for what it takes to make a company run, Mr. Sauder said. He challenges me as a CEO to do the right thing, not only to deliver the numbers, but to do the right thing in keeping with the values of family businesses like ours.

Rich Iott, who headed the former Seaway Food Town grocery chain and whose late father, Wally Iott, was a contemporary of Mr. Anderson, said his corporate neighbor in Maumee is just one of the nicest guys you ll ever meet, and he s done an incredible amount for the community.

Mr. Iott said his father and Mr. Anderson were great friends. Despite his tremendous success in business, he said, Mr. Anderson is completely down to earth.

If you run into him on a Saturday afternoon someplace, you d think he was just a farmer that had just got off his tractor, Mr. Iott said. He always just has a big smile, and a great big Hi, how ya doin? Just the most unassuming guy you d ever want to meet.

Mike Anderson, who followed his uncle into the role as The Andersons president in 1996 and as its chief executive officer in 1999, said the elder Mr. Anderson was a great role model for how to conduct one s self in business, community, and life.

He has been a tremendous mentor to me, said Mike Anderson, who assumed the role of company chairman Friday.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:lvellequette@theblade.comor 419-724-6091.



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