Man who envisioned worldwide Shoe diesNo problem was too big for Arlo "Ole" Jensen. No good idea was unattainable, friends and coworkers recalled as news spread of the former Red Wing Shoe Co. president's death on Monday. He was 82.
By: Anne Jacobson, The Republican Eagle
No problem was too big for Arlo "Ole" Jensen. No good idea was unattainable, friends and coworkers recalled as news spread of the former Red Wing Shoe Co. president's death on Monday. He was 82.
Whether the project at hand was personal or professional, Jensen gave it his all and assembled a team to ensure success.
"His vision was incredible," said Art Kenyon, a former Shoe Co. advertising manager who worked with Jensen. "We were this shoe company in the small town of Red Wing. This guy had a vision for all over the world."
Jensen came from a small Iowa town to the small - and growing - Shoe in 1955 as the advertising manager. He quickly rose through the company's hierarchy and is credited with creating the Vasque brand, elevating the marketing presence in major media nationwide and establishing the Shoe's international division.
"Trust is the most persuasive and needed ingredient in building an international market," Glen Dummer said. A fellow Shoe Co. retiree, Dummer said Jensen built that trust.
"His personality allowed him to breach cultural relationships," Dummer said. "He lived by the Golden Rule, but in cross-cultural relations that could cause issues. The Platinum Rule is to treat and respect people the way their culture dictates - not to treat people the way you want to be treated."
On a business trip in the 1970s, Jensen properly bowed and showed respect in the Japanese custom.
"After a period of time, Ole, feeling comfortable, slapped the potential customer on the back, shook his hand, and said to the effect, 'We are no different; let's make something happen.' What could have been awkward, turned extremely positive. He was well liked and accepted by all," Dummer said.
One successful venture involved building on a European idea. He took the revolutionary concept of canvas-and-nylon footwear - the forerunner to the crosstrainer - and turned it into a new work shoe. The Tramper was born.
"He was not very big in stature but had a brilliant mind," Russ Fechter said.
Joking that every time Jensen went up the ladder he did too, Fechter said he was indeed Jensen's vice president. More importantly, Jensen was probably the best friend of lifetime: They worked together and then vacationed with family together.
"People respected him and admired him. For those who were close to him, he was a guy we really loved," Fechter said.
By 1972, Jensen was president. He held that position until retiring in 1985, and helped mentor the next president, Bill J. Sweasy, along the way.
"He was just such a driving force and someone for me to look up to when I started working at the Shoe. He had such a passion at what he did," said Sweasy, who is Shoe chairman today. "He always told us we should work hard and play hard, and not let them interfere with each other."
Jensen cooked. He fished. He traveled. He played. He gardened.
Jensen also raised cattle once - and not for the hides to make shoe leather.
That venture came out of a Shoe Co. "community garden" behind Hallstrom Greenhouse. Someone said they should hold a big company banquet after the harvest using all their own food. Another person joked they were only missing the meat.
Typical Jensen. He ran with idea. Soon managers paid for some cattle and he had them feeding the livestock behind Red Wing Shoe Plant 2.
The company's banquet was a smashing success.
"He really did make the Shoe Company feel like a family," Kenyon said.