HAROLD ALFOND

Posted Sept. 25, 2008, at 11:16 p.m.

PALM BEACH, Fla., and BELGRADE – Harold Alfond, loving and beloved family patriarch, business entrepreneur, founder of Dexter Shoe Co. and Maine philanthropist, died Nov. 16, 2007, after a two-decade-long battle with cancer. A resident of Palm Beach, Fla., he was 93 years old. While intending to return to Florida, Alfond was in Maine at the time of his death to be treated by the physicians, nurses and staff of MaineGeneral Hospital, whom he called “the best in the nation.” An unassuming man whose eyes twinkled with affection and purpose, Harold Alfond lived a full and rich life devoted to his family, his business and the people of Maine. Alfond’s love for work and charitable causes continued into his 90s when he often reminded friends and family that he had much work to do and would not “retire until at least 10 years after I’m dead.” In keeping with that reminder, Alfond committed nearly all of his wealth to the Harold Alfond Foundation, which will continue to fund charitable causes in the state of Maine for generations to come. Harold Alfond was born in Swampscott, Mass., in 1914, and came of age during the lean years of the Great Depression. Alfond was an outstanding high school athlete and credited much of his success in life to the lessons learned from sports during his youth. Sports also nurtured Alfond’s competitive spirit and taught him how to get along with people, traits that defined his success in business and philanthropy. Though he was the recipient of honorary degrees from five colleges and universities, Alfond never attended college. After graduating from high school, Alfond followed his father into the shoe manufacturing business at Kesslen Shoe Co., Kennebunk. In only two years at Kesslen Shoe Co., Alfond rose from the position of “odd shoe boy” making 25 cents an hour to plant superintendent by the age of 22. At Kesslen, Alfond supervised the manufacture of Goodyear Welt shoes – heavy leather shoes named for their design and durable construction. Alfond liked to say, “If you know how to make Goodyear Welts, you can make anything.” In 1939, while en route to the Skowhegan Fair, Alfond picked up a hitchhiker who told him about a shoe factory for sale in nearby Norridgewock. He never arrived at the fair, but instead toured the abandoned factory. A year later, using proceeds from the sale of his car, Alfond and his father bought the plant for $1,000 and launched Norrwock Shoe Co. Drawing on their expertise in making Goodyear Welts, the father and son team made midpriced leather shoes, all casual and sturdy, as well as footwear for the armed forces. The midprice range was “where the volume is,” according to Alfond. After only four years, Norrwock Shoe had more than $4 million in sales. Sensing the market was ripe for a sale and to provide for his father’s retirement, Alfond sold the company in 1944 to Shoe Corporation of America for $1.1 million. Valuing Alfond’s energy and talent as an executive, the new owner retained him as company president, a position Alfond held until 1969. In 1956, U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith and former Maine Gov. and U.S. Sen. Owen Brewster sought out Alfond to help create jobs in Brewster’s hometown of Dexter. In 1958, Alfond purchased a vacant woolen mill in Dexter for $10,000 and Dexter Shoe Co. was born. In 1959, Alfond’s nephew Peter Lunder joined Alfond at Dexter and together with Alfond’s three sons, who later joined the business, built a shoe company that, at its peak, manufactured more than 36,000 pairs of shoes daily and more than 7.5 million annually. Initially, Dexter produced a traditional line of casual shoes for the “make-up” market: Sears, J.C. Penney, Edison, Montgomery Ward. Within four years, Dexter began producing its signature products: casual rubber-soled leather boat shoes and field boots that carried the Dexter name. The Dexter line further expanded to include golf, bowling and other athletic footwear. Foreign competition rendered domestic manufacture of footwear a highly competitive business. But under Alfond’s leadership, Dexter Shoe thrived by offering a high-quality American-made shoe at a reasonable price. Alfond assured Dexter’s success by avoiding debt and investing all company profits in state-of-the-art manufacturing technology. In its prime, the company could ship orders as small as one pair of shoes within 24 hours to retailers, effectively carrying the inventory for small, independent shoe stores. Technology investments and no debt also allowed the company to compete against foreign competitors while still paying Dexter employees a 15 percent premium over domestic industry standards. In 1971, Dexter became one of the first companies in the country to manufacture and retail its own product when Alfond pioneered the factory outlet store at his Skowhegan plant. Initially, the Dexter outlets sold factory seconds and outdated lines, but the familiar Dexter log cabin-style outlets soon carried top-quality shoes well below standard market price. By the 1990s, Dexter had expanded to more than 80 outlet stores nationwide, employed nearly 4,000 people and had annual sales exceeding $250 million. Over the years, Alfond turned down many offers to purchase his family-run company. He and his nephew would tell suitors, “Your arms are too short and your pockets are not deep enough.” Then in 1993, at age 79, Alfond sold Dexter Shoe Co., for Berkshire Hathaway stock to Warren Buffett. In Berkshire’s 1993 Annual Report, Buffett described Dexter as one of the best-run companies he had ever seen, which is why he was willing to purchase Dexter for stock, a transaction that left Alfond and his family as the second-largest shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. Alfond and his nephew were, according to Buffett, “.400 hitters.” Buffett asked Alfond, his nephew and three sons to remain at Dexter, and Alfond stayed on until 2001 when Dexter was merged into HH Brown Shoe Co. Harold Alfond was married Aug. 5, 1943, to Dorothy “Bibby” Levine, daughter of a prominent Waterville family. Making their home in Waterville and summering on Belgrade Lakes, the couple had four children, Ted, Susan, Bill and Peter. In 1950, at the age of 36, Alfond and his wife established the first private foundation in Maine. The Alfonds shared with others less fortunate through support of local causes and organizations. They focused on health care and education with a special emphasis on helping young people. The Alfonds’ giving pattern was established early on with gifts to such organizations as the Waterville YMCA, Waterville Boys and Girls Club, the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers, Thayer Hospital and Colby College. Alfond also personally and quietly paid school tuitions for many of the children of his employees and friends. After the sale of Dexter Shoe, with his wife, Bibby, as his partner and counsel, Alfond greatly accelerated the charitable donations of his foundation. The donations made by the Harold Alfond Foundation generally reflected Alfond’s belief in teamwork and his love of competition. Gifts typically took the form of matching challenge grants, which inspired and leveraged additional giving by others. Alfond understood the value of a community knowing that each individual contribution would be doubled, whether it was $5 or $50,000. He was also renowned for his quick challenges; often at a building dedication he would offer to match all funds raised during the event or over the next 30 days. Reflecting his belief in the value of youth sports programs and using the challenge match approach, Alfond contributed millions of dollars to charitable causes, especially for facilities at schools and colleges throughout the state of Maine and in several other states. As a condition of his contributions, Alfond often required that the facilities were to be shared with the community at large, as well as with students, faculty and staff. Buildings which bear the Alfond name include the ice arena, athletic center and senior residential complex at Colby College; the sports stadium, hockey arena, arena clubhouse at the University of Maine; the student recre

ation center and academic bu

http://bangordailynews.com/2008/09/25/obituaries/harold-alfond/ printed on September 30, 2016