Carol Spalding: Ketner advocated economic justice

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 21, 2016

By Carol Spalding

Special to the Salisbury Post

I met Food Lion co-founder Ralph Ketner through Rotary in 2008 and was impressed with his accomplishments and his mathematical prowess. Mr. Ketner was renown for both but I admired him most for his social consciousness and democratic thinking. He was very much a supporter of those struggling to become members of the middle class and he funded scholarships at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College to enable students to achieve their goals.

Before his death he sent me a letter about the impact of salary disparities on the middle class and wrote “there should be a law prohibiting this. He wanted an article written about the topic.

In August of 2015, Mr. Ketner had read an article by Dante Ramos called “Why tiptoe around exorbitant CEO pay?” comparing the increase in workers’ pay to salaries of CEOs from 1978 to 2015. During that time, the minimum wage increased from $2.65 an hour to $7.50 an hour, an increase of 183 percent. CEOs’ pay increased from $79.50 an hour to $2,272.50 an hour, an increase of 2,757 percent.

According to Mr. Ketner’s calculations, CEOs made 30 times the salary of the average worker in 1978. In 2015, CEOs made 303 times what workers made that same year. Ketner called this practice obscene — in bold type. “There is no wonder Americans no longer have a middle class,” he wrote.

Salisbury was the lucky beneficiary of Food Town and Food Lion. By his own admission, Mr. Ketner did not pay himself on the same scale as other CEOs. He never received one share of a stock option nor did he give an option to the other two co-founders. The founders were concerned “first with the customer, second with employees, third with shareholders and last, the CEO.” He walked his talk.

As we approach his birthday, we remember Ralph Ketner for his “bootstraps” life story and his contributions to this community and the field of entrepreneurship. I miss him for his friendship, his candor and constructive criticism (his letters!). More importantly, we should remember Mr. Ketner’s values and update his story to include his sense of economic and social justice as an essential part of his legacy.

Carol S. Spalding is president of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

Ketner’s birthday was Tuesday. He would have been 96.