David Schirner, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters Association of Columbus and Franklin County Inc., knew he was in for a change a few years after R. Gabe Reitter II joined his board of directors in 1990.
Reitter had already forced Schirner to alter the way the organization had operated for 60 years. Among the improvements: a more developed customer service approach to recruiting and retaining volunteers, a larger development staff and new programs to allow more flexibility in recruitment.
Schirner didn't realize how much of a change he'd encounter, though, until the latter half of 1995, when he approached Reitter, then board president, to tell him he thought he would fall short of the recruiting and child-assistance goals he had established.
"He says, 'Dave, either you'll have to match this or you won't have a job,'" Schirner recalls. The threat prompted Schirner to send his staff back to the drawing board to find ways to succeed. They did meet his goals that year, albeit just barely. "We laugh about it now, but at the time I just remember looking at him and going, 'Hmmm.'"
Schirner says Reitter's enthusiasm, passion and vision in leading the organization turned it around at a time when volunteers were scarce. It's the same passion and vision the seemingly tireless Reitter was using at the time to launch his own multimillion dollar contracting company while serving in leadership roles with various professional organizations.
"The bottom line is that for the last two years, our organization has been the largest Big Brothers Big Sisters program in the country," Schirner says. "Really all of it I can trace back to those years of Gabe being on the board and the executive committee and saying, 'You guys need to think differently. Let's take a business approach to how to run this organization.'"
That was natural for Reitter, whose business roots run deep. Not only has he started four businesses in his 49 years, he grew up working in his family's business, Reitter Stucco Inc., which he left under strained relations in 1991.
"That was the hardest thing I ever did in my life was to leave the family business," he says, noting that the split resulted in a lawsuit and a rift between him and his brothers that has been slow to mend. He even competes against his brothers for business now through Reitter Wall Systems Inc., which he owns, and United Stucco Associates Supply, where he is vice president and treasurer.
Hard times have hit Reitter's personal life, too, including the death of a little brother when Reitter was a child and a divorce which left him to raise four children.
Reitter also overcame a rough couple years at Reitter Wall Systems in the mid-1990s, which included a split with his business partner, a walkout by half a dozen of his foremen and the company's first revenue decrease.
To recover, Reitter reorganized the company, moving superintendents into the field and subcontracting work to the foremen who had left.
"How can you stop the American way?" Reitter says of his reasoning, adding that those foremen also buy products from his supply company.
These hardships, Reitter says, have given him a broader understanding of what life is about.
"Even when you make mistakes or you're in the midst of a real dilemma and it's the biggest thing you've ever had to face, well, two years later when you look back at that dilemma, it was nothing compared to what you may be going through today," he says, noting that a conversion to Judaism and marriage to Arlene Berkman in 1997 have been among the most significant influences on his life.
Today brings better times for Reitter. He's president of a $3 million, 30 employee company that applies stucco and stone to commercial and high-end residential buildings and a partner in a $2 million supply company that employs 12. He's also president of Walls Equipment Co., a $350,000 company that owns the land and buildings on the seven acre West Columbus site that's home to all his businesses. As if that weren't enough, late last year, Reitter opened Classic Stone Co. Inc., a manufacturing company with eight employees.
Although Reitter is dedicated to his industry-he's held nine leadership posts in various professional organizations since 1991 and won four awards for his business achievements-he still sees success as amounting to more than dollars.
"With Big Brothers Big Sisters, I'd like to think that I was an inspiration, as president, to the executive director to look beyond wherever he thought he could ever go," Reitter says, echoing the thoughts he had of himself, when he felt he had to prove he could be a force in the industry after leaving his family's business.
Schirner hypothesizes that Reitter's success is rooted in an ability to lead people.
"His enthusiasm-and his passion-is very contagious. I think people enjoy being around him and they get caught up in that," Schirner says, adding that people may misread Reitter, seeing his sharp business skills but overlooking his compassion.
"He realizes that, even though he's had his own problems like we all do in business and in life, there are people that have it much worse than he," Schirner says. "I think he understands that he's also had a lot of blessings in his life and is, therefore, very compassionate for people who have not had his fortunes."