The Business Of Giving Back


    American flags are everywhere. Patriotism is cool again. A whole new generation of schoolchildren is learning the Pledge of Allegiance.

    The TV anchors are talking about how the terrorist attacks have shown that people in New York and, to a certain extent, Washington, D.C., really do care about each other.

    But it doesn’t take a national tragedy for people in West Michigan to suddenly uncover the “caring” gene.

    The national news is overshadowing what’s happening locally. But the announcement late last week that Stuart Ray, owner and operator of 42 Burger King franchises in West Michigan, will be selling his restaurants will be of utmost importance to the community.

    And not in a negative way.

    Mr. Ray has been a pillar of the business community for quite some time. He started his food service career in 1971, was district manager by 1974 and had purchased 19 stores by 1989. He built those franchises into $44 million in annual sales.

    But that’s not his most important contribution to West Michigan. Mr. Ray, like so many West Michigan business leaders, is committed to the business of giving back to the community.

    His sincere interest in his employees’ well-being, along with his formation of the Ray of Hope Foundation, makes Mr. Ray a pillar in more than just the business community.

    A spokesperson said Mr. Ray is selling the Burger Kings so he can become more involved in the social arena.

    Inner city kids, especially, can look forward to this decision, for he has a passion for meeting the needs of that special group of children. He will be another in a long line of West Michigan business leaders who have traded in their cell phones and power lunches for something much more meaningful.

    The region can be proud of the efforts of people like Mr. Ray, David Frey, Peter Wege, Rich DeVos and countless others who, having already made a name for themselves, now are making a name for this community.

    When honored with the 1996 Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Mr. Ray listed “Let’s do what is right” as his personal motto. Doing right for his employees, for youths and residents of the community is his way.

    Here’s one example. Believing a community is only as strong as its weakest link, he formed an association with two African-American entrepreneurs to build a series of Burger King restaurants in the core city. The restaurant properties are held in a 100 percent minority-owned partnership and are dedicated to hiring from within the neighborhoods they serve. The list of his innovative solutions to common problems goes on and on. Transportation, college tuition and job advancement are other issues he champions.

    Much of Mr. Ray’s philanthropy has been “behind the scenes.” He rarely touts his achievements, instead gaining a measure of personal satisfaction from a job well done.

    That’s the philosophy upon which he built his business empire, and it’s the one that will serve him well as he adds another building block to West Michigan’s “social arena.”

    So as Americans across the country weep for those who died in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, residents of West Michigan can quietly rejoice that another pillar of the business community is staying home to do good work.

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