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A campus landmark named for a business legend

Ralph W. Ketner became a friend of Queens when he was inducted into the Carolinas Entrepreneur Hall of Fame at the McColl School of Business in 2010. He was honored for his groundbreaking career as the co-founder and former chairman and CEO of Food Lion. Just a year later, he contributed $1 million to Queens to name the auditorium in Sykes Learning Center, which welcomes thousands of students and community members each year.

At the dedication ceremony on Oct. 11, Ketner regaled the audience with entertaining and enlightening stories and advice about leadership and entrepreneurship.

"If you're going to be a 'me, too', who needs you?" he said. "... For goodness sake, go work for someone else. Think outside the box. Don't go by the book."

When Ralph Ketner helped launch Food Lion (then Food Town) in 1957, he and his co-founders started with a single store in Salibury, North Carolina. They recruited their first 125 investors by paging through the local Salisbury phone book, getting investments of $50 or $100. By the time Ketner retired in 1991, an original $100 investment was worth nearly $3.5 million, and the chain of 800 stores was grossing $8.3 billion a year.

Dean Terry Broderick of the McColl School of Business described him as "an innovative and creative leader who is not afraid to take strategic risks." Ketner pioneered ideas that were way ahead of their time and are still current today:  buy-one-get-one-free promotions; prescriptions at cost, and even the recycling of cardboard. In 1968, he took a tremendous risk on an everyday low price strategy, slashing prices in order to win customer loyalty. His gamble paid off, and with it he revolutionized the grocery industry - and the whole retail world.

During her remarks, President Pamela Davies shared that she read Ketner's autobiography Five Fast Pennies the week she met him. "One of your lessons stood out to me," she told Mr. Ketner, "your advice not to be a "me too" competitor, merely copying another's strategy. At Queens and the McColl School, we strive to live up to your example."

Ketner didn't put any constraints on the money to Queens, saying "I have faith that they will put it to good use." President Davies thanked Ketner by presenting him with cookies made in his likeness, in honor of his famous sweet tooth.

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