Memorial Tribute to our Founder

I’m pretty sure the first thing I remember about Dad’s business were the marionettes.

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Dad had nothing to do with show business. But he did work in the Summit, New Jersey branch of a large insurance company where elaborate holiday parties were an anticipated annual event, and which featured first-rate entertainment for the kids like Bil Baird’s famous puppets. For a seven year-old who would eventually go into theater and wind up in media and advertising, Dad was doing all right by me. Meanwhile, he was restless, rapidly climbing a corporate ladder that held for him not a fraction of the interest I had in dancing wooden showgirls. Dad was eager to break the strings.

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Once a large and esteemed American corporation, Kemper Insurance was founded in the early 20th Century by James S. Kemper. Kemper was a pioneer in the writing of automobile insurance, and played a major role in bringing “mutual” insurance to dominance in the American market. In 1948, he established the James S. Kemper foundation, and by 1955, the Foundation was supporting forty-eight Kemper Scholars in eighteen colleges and universities across the country. Russ Granger was among them.

If not exactly impoverished, Dad had very little in the way of resources growing up, save for a family that valued integrity and hard work. The depression had forced his mother to seek employment before getting even halfway through high school; he was a product of what was disparagingly referred to in those days as a broken home; he was the first in the family history to attend college.

Although he had no obligation as a condition of his scholarship, Dad’s personal sense of honor compelled him to accept an offer of a position with Kemper Insurance upon his graduation from Lafayette. NBC-fall-preview-1960s-260He was a natural salesman and rose quickly in the ranks at the company. Within just a few years he was collecting promotions, industry awards, and national recognition.

But Dad had the heart of an entrepreneur and chafed at the lugubrious pace and petty restraints of corporate life. As an antidote, he pursued a remarkable variety of side businesses – from packaging artificial plants and real orchids, to manufacturing comfort inserts for ski boots before the advent of foam injection technology. He worked in real estate development, built a line of auto tune-up shops, and dabbled in the art prints market.

Lightning finally struck when he combined his entrepreneurial inclinations with his insurance industry knowledge and his natural abilities in sales. What began as an in-house project to bring the sales rank-and-file up to Russ Granger level became

a series of programs that forever changed the way companies develop employees. When Dad produced his first sales course, which featured golf legend Arnold Palmer, there were few corporate training departments and no such thing as an instructional designer. arnold-palmer-golf-142Arnold Palmer for a sales program? One of Dad’s insights was that people are motivated by success itself, and that there are lessons to be learned from accomplishment in any field.

He also knew that people learn by doing, and that business only cares about results. At a time when job skills were still being transferred in the centuries-old manner of individual apprenticeships or in lecture format seminars, Dad created highly participatory workshops that made learning active rather than passive, and which enabled employees to “hit the ground running” (to use one his favorite phrases). This new dynamic approach would revolutionize not only the insurance industry, but corporate training itself.

PRISMS-logoIt was the PRISMS program series that anyone over the age of 40 in the property & casualty industry will have been exposed to in one form or another. The programs took the insurance industry by storm in the last few decades of the 20th century with their unique combination of business communication and personal productivity skills, amplified with practical tools for escalating on-the-job performance. The largest-selling interpersonal skills courses in the industry for the better part of twenty years, PRISMS materials are still in wide use across the industry today.

Core-Skills-Network-ScreensWhen AT&T wanted to design and build course materials for its sales and leadership program, they went to the man who changed everything and set new standards for performance improvement. The Core Skills Network materials remain the foundation of the courses in use at the company to this day.

Even in his twilight years, Dad was never without a vision of something to accomplish, a goal he wanted to achieve. He wrote books, he blogged, and even endured the grind of stand-up workshops when invited to present to college students. He appreciated the finer things. HRuss-Helming-the-Crabqueste liked good wine, good food, action-packed vacations, and more than anything, perhaps, his beloved Crabquest, the 38-foot vintage Chris-Craft that was his modest trophy for a life of many accomplishments.

But at the end of the day, Dad wasn’t in it for the spoils of achievement, for the rewards of success. He was in it for the pursuit itself, for the thrill of the hunt. And he was in it especially to help make others successful. I can report with certitude that he achieved that in spades for at least one of his disciples.

On the ski vacations we often took as a young family, Dad would always be the last one down from the mountain, gunning for that last trail before the lifts closed. I think that for him, it was as much about the climb as it was about the run.

And it was a great run. See you at aprés ski, Dad.