Frequently when I think of business leaders, I remember a Harvard Business Review article dealing with leadership.
In that piece an executive at the Oracle software firm described the CEO of the company, Larry Ellison, this way: “The difference between God and Larry is that God does not believe he is Larry.”
Often that kind of narcissism is seen as a leadership trait for producing a solid bottom line — not only does the driven leader of a company lack empathy for hard-working employees, he also frequently achieves success at expense of family.
With that in mind, I read with interest the recent obituary of Harold Bellanger, who led the family-owned Anderson Dairy in Las Vegas for decades as its president before his June 14 death at 89 from pancreatic cancer:
“Anyone who knew Harold would tell you the two words that describe him best would be humble and kind.”
Not the description of a company president you generally read.
The more you talk with people who knew Bellanger, the more you understand that nice guys — and their companies — need not finish last.
Mike Hatefi, who worked in production, appreciated that Bellanger learned the names of the people who worked for the 115-year-old company with 140 employees.
“He was never snobby,” he recalled.
Erika Fiandra, who gives tours of the dairy to schoolchildren, recalled that Bellanger remembered her name the second day she met him: “Good morning, Erika with a K.”
Kathy Guido, telephone operator at the dairy for years, remembers Bellanger would always tease her about her love for air conditioning in the office: “You can hang meat in here.”
Company credit manager Lisa Eng often got to hear Bellanger sing: “My favorite time with Harold would be Friday afternoons when I would start singing ‘Hallelujah,’ and if I forgot he would sing it as a reminder.”
Controller Teresa Hancox gets emotional talking about Bellanger. “When I suddenly lost my husband of 27 years, the patriarch of the Anderson Dairy family was at my house within minutes of a frantic phone call.”
When the company was going through difficult times during the recent recession, dairy vice president Dave Coon said Bellanger would stay late to “crunch the numbers.”
“He didn’t have to be there, but he knew how to make the numbers work,” Coon said. “He said he had two families. His Anderson Dairy family and his family at home.”
In the 1950s, after the Army and a degree from Boston University, Bellanger left Massachussets and drove west. He fell in love with the mountains and desert landscape of Las Vegas and decided to stay.
After taking a job at the dairy in the collections department, he and the owner’s daughter, Janiece, began dating. They married in 1956 and together raised five children. In 2005, after 50 years of marriage, Bellanger’s wife died.
His children adored the man who took them to the mountains and ocean on vacations and who eventually worked his way up to general manager and then company president.
Daughter Karyn Finlayson says her dad sat in his favorite Lazy Boy chair and listened to her mother play piano. And she remembers how her dad, who never rode a horse before coming to Nevada, learned to ride well enough to teach his children.
Granddaughter Chelsea loved how grandpa kept his sideburns long like Elvis Presley and preferred simple plaid shirts with suspenders while at home.
“He really only spent money on himself to buy a car,” she said. “He loved Cadillacs and his license plate always read, ‘Milk.’”
Daughter Elizabeth Boldt smiles as she recalls what happened once when her dad gave a tour of the dairy.
“Then we let kids go in the freezer,” she said. “As the group was about to move, one little girl started crying. Dad asked what was wrong and she said, ‘My shoes are stuck.’ Dad picked her up and soon she was laughing.”
In the days before Bellanger died at home, a nurse was hired to help his family take care of him. Boldt remembers that the caregiver asked her father what kind of work he had done.
“I was an office worker,” he said.
Paul Harasim’s column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Friday in the Nevada section and Thursday in the Life section. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5273. Follow @paulharasim on Twitter.