‘Well Done Is Better Than Well Said’

With the title words of this article and with due respect to Ben Franklin, who first said them, Ron Harder concluded his last talk to friends and industry colleagues, capping a successful 34-year career at Jewelers Mutual. When he finished his brief talk, the audience gave Ron a standing ovation.

Mild mannered and sincere are appropriate words to describe Harder. He is one of the most down-to-earth people you could ever meet. His friends, industry associates, and co-workers at Jewelers Mutual hold him in great affection. He possesses a remarkable combination of skills that he has used effectively over the years to lead a firm that has provided genuine value to its clients. And in so doing, Ron helped craft a first-rate business model. The model, by the way, is one that focuses on the client’s needs first and generates profit from providing solutions to those needs.

Harder’s list of accomplishments is a long one. From a purely business perspective, overseeing the growth of JM’s asset base from $4 million in 1973 to $184 million during his tenure is impressive. During the past 22 years, the company maintained an A+ Superior rating by A. M. Best (the company that rates insurance companies), which is also impressive. Perhaps most noteworthy are the team and leadership Harder put together during this time. True management is getting things done through others. If Good to Great author Jim Collins is correct about getting the right people on the bus, then Harder’s decision to select, groom, and ultimately recommend to the JM board Darin Kath as his successor is a classic example of the right way to provide a seamless leadership transition to a firm. Darin takes the helm of a thriving business with a clear focus and understanding of JM’s mission and methods.

Jewelers Mutual is located in the heartland of Wisconsin, in the town of Neenah. You would never expect such a booming business to be situated in a small Midwestern town like Neenah. Yet, I think a large part of JM’s success is the core values that are exemplified by all of the JM people I met during my visit there. From the receptionist to the middle-rank employees to senior management, there appears to be none of the corporate perks and separation based on title. Everyone is focused on the mission and reflecting that mission in all they do.

Sam Walton, Tom Peters, and many other accomplished individuals speak of getting things done as a mark of a fruitful career. Ron Harder ended his talk by quoting Ben Franklin’s words. A man who is a bit uncomfortable with all of the attention shown to him as a result of his retirement sent a message to all of us by focusing on achievements rather than words of praise. Well done and well said, Ron.

frankdallahan@comcast.net