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A Mandate to Innovate: Yankee Candle's Rick Ruffolo

By: Karen A. Newman
Posted: May 3, 2007, from the May 2007 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Growing up the sixth of seven children in Kettering, Ohio, gave Ruffolo the advantage of watching his older siblings face the world ahead of him. “I always had the unique opportunity to watch and learn as my older siblings experienced life stages before me—from grade school through college … the work world, marriage, kids, etc. It definitely helped give me wisdom that I otherwise would not have had.” He readily admits, however, that his biggest influences were his parents, first generation Italian-Americans born in Chicago.

His father became president of a successful direct mail marketing company in the Dayton, Ohio, area at the tender age of 29 and started his own company 18 years later, which he ran for 20 years. Ruffolo was there the day his folks opened the door to their own company, and his first jobs were there—driving fork lifts, setting up racks, creating inventory systems, delivering packages and anything else that needed doing. In college at nearby University of Dayton, he continued to help out, setting up his dad’s computer system (“back in the pre-Internet days,” as Ruffolo described it) and visiting accounts with him.

“I watched him create something out of nothing,” said Ruffolo. “He did it by having a vision and working every day with the intent of delivering that vision. I learned so much from him, but probably most important was the way he treated his employees.” According to Ruffolo, his dad knew all of them—from the office staff to the hourly workers in the warehouse. And those employees, said Ruffolo, “would run through walls for him because they knew he genuinely cared about each one of them. I have never forgotten the power of that.”

His mother worked for his father’s company, too, and pitched in wherever she was needed, from accounting and payroll to administrative tasks. It was from her that Ruffolo learned how to juggle multiple tasks, to negotiate, to think on his feet and how to stand his ground.

“What I also admire about both of them is that while pursuing this entrepreneurial venture, they always prioritized and found the time to watch my games or come to school events, along with juggling the activities and needs of my six siblings.”