I was saddened yesterday to hear of the passing of Ken Melrose, past president/CEO/chairman ("executive emeritus", if there were such a thing) of the Toro Company. I write this not as a factual obituary (I'll leave that to John Reitman), eulogy or even memorial, as I did not know him beyond several casual handshakes back in the late '80s/early '90s when I was in the peripheral Toro family. It's mostly a recollection of observations made as I watched him from afar.
Ken Melrose did well for himself while doing good for Toro, it's employees and stockholders. He steered Big Red through some turbulent times (in his early years, a snowblower glut during a snowless winter almost sank the ship, back when Toro was primarily a consumer goods company) and led the charge to a leadership position in the professional and commercial turf and irrigation markets. Toro steadfastly remained independent, resisting the mergers and acquisition offers from potential suitors who no doubt came a-callin'.
Toro stock has done magnificently during Melrose's watch and those of Mike Hoffman and Rick Olson, his successors on Lyndale Avenue in Bloomington. I have never been terribly motivated by money, but one of the few regrets I have in life is not buying Toro stock back in the day. A few thousand shares of TTC would no doubt cushion my looming retirement a bit, as I'm sure it has for most of the folks I knew at Toro and who have subsequently retired well.
So Ken Melrose made a lot of money, as he should have. But unlike those who gather it in and squirrel it away, or spend it on lavish homes and lifestyles, from my standpoint Ken viewed his personal wealth as "seed and fertilizer" to help ideas germinate and people flourish and grow. His personal mantra was servant leadership, which went down through the ranks of Toro employees but also the golf industry (and others) as well.
A few things stick out in my mind. His foundation established in 2002 a needs-based scholarship fund for dependents of Toro employees, and a few years later he helped establish the Melrose/Hoffman Employee Critical Need Fund, sort of a Wee One Foundation for Toro employees experiencing economic hardship. I'm sure it is appreciated this year.
Within the golf industry, he was early in on the First Tee (1998) and last year the First Green. Beyond those, his $1 million gift in 2012 to GCSAA to endow the Melrose Leadership Academy sends up to 20 superintendents each year who couldn't otherwise afford it to attend GIS. He gave another $1 million to GCSAA in 2019 to create the Melrose Equipment Management Endowment to support the educational development of equipment technicians, again by sending them to GIS.
I love the last two. Superintendents from lower-budget facilities and equipment techs, both with an unfortunate history at times of being overlooked or ignored. The little guys.
Outside of golf, in 2019 the Melrose Family Foundation donated $18.7 million to a Twin Cities health care facility to fund advanced care for individuals with eating disorders, and just two months ago donated $3 million to the local Animal Humane Society (AHS) to fund a new campus in St. Paul — more "little guys".
In this day and age of vacant leadership and questionable ethics, one can only applaud and appreciate Ken Melrose for being who and what he was, without pretense or ego. I, for one, greatly admired the man.