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Sunday, August 5, 2007

Life's early lessons provided firm foundation

Ups and downs: Dennis Sponsel took on business ownership just before an economic downturn. But today, he says, RJE Business Interiors is thriving. He calls the experience "an incredible ride."
- Photo provided by Dennis Sponsel
  • Age: 52
  • Title: President, owner
    RJE Business Interiors
  • Community/professional: Co-chair 2007 United Way Campaign; president-elect, Rotary Club of Indianapolis; Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library Foundation board; Mother Theodore Guerin Catholic Academies board; Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Library community board; Indianapolis Downtown Inc. board
  • Personal: Wife, Cathy; four children.
I never would have thought as an eighth-grade football and basketball player at St. Philip Neri that those experiences would become invaluable to my business life decades later.
Nor would I ever have dreamed that the discipline and motivation received while attending high school at the Latin School of Indianapolis would provide so much support as challenges emerged in life.
But that's exactly what has happened.
I had the very good fortune of being raised by parents who positioned their children in front of people and situations that would benefit them later in life. These were people that knew how to be tough but smile; give discipline but care; compete but be fair. What wonderful teachings.
I entered the office-furniture industry as an ambitious 21-year- old and worked for 23 years for The Shaw Walker Co., which later merged with Knoll Inc.
The 1990 merger, on the verge of a 1991 economic downturn, served as my first very big business lesson. I got to learn how to handle tough business obstacles in a disciplined and focused fashion.
I bought RJE Business Interiors (a Knoll dealer) in March 2000 right before the office furniture industry experienced its biggest downturn in history -- a 42 percent drop from 2001 to 2003. Like others, I hadn't anticipated the magnitude of the fall, and I had just bought a business.
Thankfully, I was able to draw from my early life lessons and mentors to get through these difficult times.
Those early tough days of hot practices and seemingly insurmountable challenges came to mind often. Those early teachings that life will not always be easy, that there is always a way to come out the other end a champion, became a constant in my mind.
It has turned out to be an incredible ride.
Our company today is stronger and healthier than ever, and it has allowed me to contribute back to the very community that helped me be who I am today. I couldn't be more thankful for the opportunities and people that gave of themselves and their influence.
-- By Dennis Sponsel
Source: The Indianapolis Star > Business, August 5, 2007

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