Ron Hunter: Leading by example
by Kelvin De'Marcus Allen
© 2013 The Urban Journal Magazine - All rights reserved.
A Kelvin Allen & Associates/Strategic Media Solutions Group Publication
Editor’s Note: Ronald J. Hunter is the 2011 Servant Leadership Award recipient.The award is presented by the Urban Journal Magazine and 1st Wednesdays Leader’s Gathering and Networking Social.The award is presented to the local leader who best exemplifies the traits of the servant leader.
Servant leadership is a philosophy and practice of leadership, coined and defined by Robert K. Greenleaf (1904-1990), founder of the Center for Applied Ethics and the modern Servant leadership movement. Servant leaders continually strive to be trustworthy, self-aware, humble, caring, a visionary, empowering, relational, competent, a good steward, and a community builder. Congratulations, Ronald J. Hunter on your selection as the 2011 Servant Leadership Award recipient.
KDA: Where are you from originally?
RH: I was born and raised in Georgetown, South Carolina. Georgetown is geographically about 35 miles south of Myrtle Beach and about 60 miles north of Charleston. Georgetown is a port city. The main industry there is paper. For a number of years before I graduated from high school there was a thriving German Steel Mill that added a different flavor to the town. Georgetown is basically a small southern town on the coast
KDA: Tell me a little about your parents and what is something you learned from them that you still carry with you today?
RH: My parents were very, very strict and they believed in discipline. There were six of us and growing up in the era that I did; there was a need to interact and a need to share. My parents instilled in us a sense of family. So, the first thing I learned was that you never do harm to your family. You were required to go to church and you had to get good grades in school. I remember once being especially exuberant about getting an “A” in math on my report card. Well, my mother was more concerned about the bad mark I received in conduct than she was with the “A” in math. She was quick to remind me that math was what they taught me in school, but conduct was what
she taught me. My mother’s attitude about my report card was indicative of the doctrine my parents believed in and what they tried to instill in us. Not only were we expected to conduct ourselves properly, we were expected to respect our elders and neighbors also. Simply put, that was the culture, and we were the epitome of the “village”. I had aunts and uncles who also had an impact on my development.
KDA: Why did you leave Georgetown?
"We were expected to respect our elders and neighbors also. Simply put, that was the culture, and we were the epitome of the “village”.
RH: I left Georgetown for good to go to college, but in truth, I left Georgetown every summer to work.
KDA: Where did you go?
RH: I would go to a little community outside of Wilmington, N.C. called Lorice and to Tabor City, N.C. to do agricultural work (tobacco farming). I would also go to Myrtle Beach and work in restaurants. I suppose that’s how I got my start in the service industry. I started out washing dishes and eventually began cooking. It wasn’t long before a family friend who just happened to be prominent undertaker recommended me for a job at the Breakers Hotel. I started as a Bellman there. I was ambitious and a little aggressive also and part of the job of being a Bellman was sitting around waiting for things to happen. I wanted to do more.
The Breakers was set-up on a European plan at that time and the guests usually stayed for about two weeks. We all lived across the street in a dormitory. The wait staff would go over and work all the meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner with breaks in between. Ironically, the bell staff was just the opposite of that, when they had meal periods it was quiet at the bell stand. In time, I started going in to work in the restaurant. I would help out by clearing dishes, serving coffee and eventually I learned to wait tables. It was really a great experience and it changed the way I looked at the food service industry. I wasn’t just slinging hash or running food out, I was creating a fine dining experience. The guests would ask for suggestions and I felt as though I was contributing to their dining experience. I think that’s where I got the idea that the service industry was really based on people’s willingness to serve and to give, and to just be open. It wasn’t long before guests began to request that I wait on their table.
KDA: I imagine that you realized at that point that you could take what you’d learned, and take it anywhere you decided to go.
RH: To be honest I don’t think I really looked at it like that. I enjoyed it. It was fun because I’m somewhat gregarious and social. So, it was good to meet different people, and I had mostly positive experiences. There were some negative experiences, but the positive experiences far outweighed the negative.
KDA: Would you say your family and your experiences as young man working in the food service industry influenced how you manage your staff today? And, how would you describe your leadership style?
RH: I believe in leading by example. When I interview prospective employees, one of the first things I let them know is I will not ask them to do anything that I will not do myself. I think that’s important. And yes, I think I do bring a lot of things that are a part of my upbringing into the business. What I’ve learned over the years is that some things are so simple because they are just the way humans behave. I don’t mean to over simplify managing people, but some of the same methods you use to raise and steer a child—you use in managing your employees. You reward people for doing the right thing.
First, show them how to do it, then give them the opportunity to do it themselves. Correct them if they’re wrong, and give them the opportunity to perform the task on their own. Repetition is what eventually brings something into existence that’s flawless. Most people come to work to do a good job. So, you build on that by giving them an opportunity to do what they want to do. My job is to make sure I don’t let systems and operations get in the way of my employees delivering the highest level of service to our guests. If we take care of the customer, then everything else falls into place and that’s been my goal.
KDA: What is something that you want your children to always remember that you’ve taught them?
RH: I try to instill in my children that if you want something, you have to work for it; because that’s the only way you’re truly going to value it. If you want to be successful, then you have to put something into it.
KDA: How do you want people to perceive Ron Hunter?
RH: I would like to be thought of as a team player. Whatever I’ve accomplished over the years has been with the help of many different people.
“I believe in leading by example. When I interview prospective employees, one of the first things I tell them is that I will not ask them to do anything that I will not do myself. I think that’s important.”
Ronald J. Hunter
Research Triangle Park, N.C.
Length of Service: 38 years
Georgetown, S. C.
N.C. Central University
1968 – 1972
“Lead by example”