LA CRESCENT, Minn. — Gerald Baldner, retired CEO of La Crosse-based Kitchen Solvers Inc., is spreading the word about servant leadership in a book he wrote to help cope with his son’s death.
“Successful Servant Leadership: Insights from Servant Leaders in Education, Business, Healthcare, Politics, Athletics and Religion” was published in December by the D. B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership at Viterbo University.
Baldner interviewed 13 people from different fields about their leadership experiences and insights. Some of them include Don Weber, founder and CEO of Logistics Health Inc.; Roger Harring, former football coach at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse; and Dennis Hastert, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Baldner, 70, of La Crescent, Minn., wrote the book after the July 2010 death of his son, Jason. The younger Baldner had been in a coma since a May 2010 speedboat crash in Florida.
“It was a very difficult time for (his wife) Betty and me,” Baldner said. “We were seeing a grievance counselor, and one of the things she suggested was trying to get involved in something that you’re passionate about, that would help you try to not think about your loss, but rather be consumed by a big project.”
He decided to write about servant leadership after the two area investors who were about to buy Kitchen Solvers from the Baldners in December 2010 spoke at a staff meeting about how to move the business forward using servant leadership principles.
At the meeting, Baldner recalled, Kitchen Solvers General Manager Gerry Henley told him that Baldner had always used servant leadership principles “and that’s why you’ve been successful.”
“That last statement just resonated in my mind,” Baldner said. “I knew hardly anything about servant leadership, and I’d never thought of myself as a servant leader. That night was one of the first times I couldn’t sleep because I was excited. I thought I’d love to write a book about this.”
Baldner learned a lot about servant leadership while conducting his 13 interviews for his book.
“Servant leadership is kind of like an umbrella under which are many virtues, values and ethics,” he said.
After finishing the interviews, Baldner said, “The main thing I wanted to project in my book is there is a distinct connection between people who practice servant leadership principles — whether they own a business or are an employee — and success. If people truly intentionally practice servant leadership principles, they’ll become successful in whatever they do.”
Baldner said he and Tom Thibodeau of Viterbo’s graduate program in servant leadership are working “on kind of a sequel” to his book. “It will be a playbook for servant leaders. Tom and I will go to companies and talk about servant leadership principles,” with the help of the playbook. Baldner hopes it will be completed this year.
Baldner’s servant leadership book is his second. His first book, “What We Say is What We Get,” was published in 2003 and is on keys to building good communications skills.
Baldner was raised on a farm near St. Ansgar, Iowa. He began his career as a school social worker, later was a marriage and family counselor, then was a college instructor. But he always wanted to own a business.
He and his wife considered many ideas for businesses before settling on kitchen cabinet refacing.
The Baldners founded Kitchen Solvers in 1982 and began selling franchises in 1984. Franchisees today specialize in both custom cabinet refacing and kitchen remodeling.
“Kitchen remodeling is a unique business,” Baldner said. “People will only remodel their kitchens maybe once or twice in a lifetime. So it’s a big deal when people decide to remodel their kitchen. How you treat them during that process contributes to your success.”
Baldner started 10 businesses during his career, but is best known as the founder and retired CEO of Kitchen Solvers.