Rick Solon started working at the former Figgie International when Matthew Figgie, son of company owner and Cleveland industrialist Harry E. Figgie Jr., was 10 and would pop in now and then wearing his T-ball uniform.

Little did Solon know then that the company culture he was absorbing would later play a big part in saving the life of that boy who grew up to be the chairman of Clark-Reliance Corp.

“Harry and his wife Nancy both started the culture and the mindset that this company was going to be run in as familial a way as it could ? that we wanted to make sure the community benefitted from that in ways that perhaps weren’t always particularly obvious.”

Solon shaped that philosophy further, empowering employees to be passionate about their work and equally compassionate in community and philanthropic activities. He and employees built a distinguished record of community involvement in causes such as the Cleveland Public Theater, the United Way and the Shriners Hospitals for Children.

But it was with the challenge of chronic kidney disease where the culture of giving also took on the sense of giving life.

Solon, president and CEO, spearheaded an effort to find a compatible donor for Matthew Figgie, his friend and colleague who was ill with kidney failure. In an incredible response, more than 80 people including a number from Clark-Reliance offered to be potential live donors.

“The doctors said that had never been heard of before,” says Figgie, chairman of Clark-Reliance. “That is humbling to say the least. The sheer numbers were unbelievable, and I to this day still get goose bumps.”

Solon, likewise, feels the same emotions.

“The fact that employees know Matthew is going to take his ? I will call it newfound life ? knowing that he is taking that so seriously and is willing to pay it forward, not only at the company level but at the community level and make sure to get involved in causes like the Kidney Foundation and such, that's incredibly inspirational to anybody, and it gives me goose bumps just talking about it.”

Figgie received a kidney donated by a Clark-Reliance employee, Dave McKee, on Dec. 1, 2009. Both Figgie and McKee are doing well. McKee gave Figgie some further reinforcement of his mission while they were both in University Hospitals.

“I was standing in his hospital door and said, ‘Saying thank you is so lame, what do I do?,’” Figgie says. “Dave said, ‘Matt, because of who you are and what you do, you are going to be able to touch hundreds of thousands if not millions of people. Make them better.’ So that's my daily mission to try to help other people.”

As for Solon’s mission, he chaired the 2011 Cleveland Kidney Foundation Walk to raise a record-breaking $185,000. Clark-Reliance was a corporate sponsor and its 162 walkers raised $2,869 in addition to a $7,500 scholarship donation from the company. Figgie will chair the 2012 Kidney Walk.

“Matthew’s need and desire for a kidney was our primary inspiration to get involved with the Kidney Foundation and the Kidney Walk in particular, but we got into that and found out that there are so many people waiting for a kidney,” Solon says. “When you are on the kidney transplant list, you are not sure there is going to be a life.”

“Kidneys are taken for granted until there is an issue,” says Amy Solmos Wayne, Northern Ohio regional director of the National Kidney Foundation. “Our job at the end of the day is to educate everyone. Diabetes and hypertension are the leading two causes of chronic kidney disease, and that is affecting a lot of Northeast Ohioans.”

Solon’s success with the 2011 Kidney Walk pointed out the importance of corporate sponsors and raised awareness about organ donations.

“It was a direct relation to companies that are doing business with Clark-Reliance,” Wayne says. “It's a whole community of support. It's their colleagues supporting their charitable initiatives. It's Rick Solon picking up the phone, telling people, ‘This is what we are involved in, we think it's a great idea and your company should get involved too,’ and they do. It is a perfect model of how this event supposed to work with having a corporate chairman.”

The Kidney Foundation asked Solon to serve on its board of directors, and he has accepted.

“With Rick on our board, we feel we will have a long-time corporate sponsorship, and we know they are going to want to be there because of Matthew's kidney transplant,” she says. “I think they will always continue to be one of our top five corporate teams, whether Matthew or Rick are chairing the event or not. They take it very seriously. They love what they've seen happen with the employees getting involved.”

Published in Cleveland