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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Melrose leaves legacy of service, leadership

There are giants in the turf business, and then there was Ken Melrose.

Kendrick B. Melrose, the former chairman and chief executive officer of The Toro Co., and a generous philanthropist who positively impacted the lives of others through a foundation created in his name, died May 3. He was 79.

053020melrose2.jpgA native of Orlando, Melrose graduated from Princeton University in 1962, where he earned bachelor's degrees in mathematics and electrical engineering. He earned master's degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago.

He joined The Toro Co. in 1970 and retired from the company in 2005. During that time and in the years following his retirement he lived a philosophy called Servant Leadership that was realized through his philanthropic efforts. It was in retirement that he founded Leading by Serving, which promotes the principles of Servant Leadership in public and private organizations. 

The Melrose Family Foundation that he founded has made generous donations to local and national charities, including a gift of nearly $19 million last year to the Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in Minneapolis.

"We owe much to Ken's principled leadership, and his legacy cannot be overstated" said Rick Olson, current chairman and chief executive officer of The Toro Company. "He was a rare transformational leader who saw the best in people and knew how to inspire them to work together and exceed their own expectations in order to achieve great things."

After leading the company for 24 years, Melrose retired as CEO in March of 2005. He was a strong advocate in the company's philanthropic and industry support, and played an instrumental role in forming the company's partnership with The First Tee in 1998. Committed to giving back to employees, he established The Kendrick B. Melrose Family Foundation Scholarship Program in 2002 for dependents of company employees, which has supported 189 students with scholarships. He also helped establish the Melrose/Hoffman Employee Critical Need Fund in 2005 to assist employees experiencing economic hardship.

A published author, his business philosophy that helped the company rebound from financial difficulties in the early 1980s when he was named president, were outlined in his book "Making the Grass Greener on Your Side: A CEO's Journey to Leading by Serving."

During his tenure, he oversaw a number of acquisitions including Wheel Horse, Exmark, Lawn-Boy and Hayter, and company sales grew from $247 million to $1.7 billion.

Survivors include his partner, Kaye O'Leary; children Rob Melrose (Paige Rogers), Lia Melrose (Jeff Thorpe), Kendra Melrose (Roshan Bharwaney); and grandchildren Charlotte Melrose and Sebastian Melrose.

Edited by John Reitman

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