Dave Longaberger was about as far from a predictable success story as might be imagined. Growing up poor in the small, has-been town of Dresden, Ohio, Dave was one of 12 children; who, with their parents, lived in a house with one bathroom. Dave’s father worked at a local paper mill, and made baskets on the side. His mother, Bonnie, worked at the woolen mill. Dave had epilepsy, and a bad stutter when he spoke. He worked hard at odd jobs as a kid, but he had to repeat the 5th grade twice, and was 21 when he graduated from high school, reading at the 6th grade level. As he says, he would have been voted most likely to fail if they had such an award at his high school. At one point the Longaberger Company had 6,000 employees, 60,000 sales consultants, and $700 million a year in revenues, although sales and employment have declined since his death, in part because the trends towards “country” home decorating peaked in the 1980s and 90s.
Longaberger, who died from renal cancer in 1999, was nicknamed “Popeye”, and called that by employees. “Homespun” is probably the best way to describe Longaberger, his work, and his company. He believed in humor and a very convivial workplace, discussing personal problems with employees, and just about every non-scientific management technique. Perhaps the ultimate people person; when he died 8,000 people attended his memorial. His work not only revitalized a dying industry, basket weaving, but also a dying small town.
His life is a tribute to traditional values, and triumph over adversity. He had two daughters, one now runs the company, the other runs his foundation. He is divorced, but amicably. In his early career Longaberger bought almost everything on installments, as he could never get bank financing. He focused on treating people with respect and being honest with employees,
Longaberger : An American Success Story