Tuesday, 10 June 2008

First-million story #6 - I was trained to work hard

Petro "Pete" Kulynych made his millions the old-fashioned way: He started at the bottom, as the bookkeeper for a small hardware store in North Wilkesboro, N.C. Eventually, that store grew into the Lowe's hardware chain and he ended up a top executive.

Actually, Kulynych, 83, started below the bottom. The son of Ukrainian immigrants, he left Pennsylvania's coal-mining country after high school to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps and helped build the Blue Ridge Parkway through the Appalachians. "I earned $21 to $25 a month, and sent part of it home to feed other family members," says Kulynych. "I was trained to work hard."

He later moved to the National Park Service, attended the Merchant Marine Academy, got married, served in World War II, then used his GI benefits to pay for accounting school. In 1946, he was hired by two brothers-in-law, named Lowe and Buchan, who owned what was then North Wilkesboro Hardware. His starting salary was $25 a week.

As the first employee of the Lowe's chain, Kulynych was always on the executive team -- "We were all CEOs," he says. He became a managing director in 1978 and retired in 1983. Spending his entire career with one company never got boring, says Kulynych, because the company was growing by leaps and bounds, and because he did so many different things -- such as running the company's foundation and working on its retirement plan. "I enjoyed fulfilling our dream of expanding from coast to coast," he says of Lowe's, which now has more than 1,000 stores nationwide, with annual sales of more than $30 billion. "The man I went to work for in 1946 said, 'Stick with me and I'll make you rich.'" That might not be as easy to do today, but "you have that guy who started Microsoft in his college dorm room."

Kulynych's fortune grew with the company. When he retired, he not only benefited from the profit-sharing plan, but also had accumulated "lots of stock options from the early days." Because of splits and dividends, one share of Lowe's stock bought for $12.25 when the company went public in 1961 is now worth $28,000.

Like many members of his generation, Kulynych has always been cautious with money. "I never bought a Cadillac until I could write a check for it," he says. "I live in a small town and I don't stick out any more than the guy down the street who works in the service station."

One of his proudest accomplishments has been paying for the education of his two daughters, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. And he has spent lavishly on philanthropy, donating millions to two family foundations run by his daughters, Brenda and Janice. When he was told that teens in the North Wilkesboro area needed activities to keep them busy, he financed a teen center and theater and helped create a soccer field and skateboard park.

Being able to distribute considerable income "makes you get up in the morning and go to work," says Kulynych. "It's been a good life."

TIP #6: Take the long view. Over his 37-year career, Pete Kulynych rose from bookkeeper to a top executive of the Lowe's hardware chain.

Add to: Digg Add to: Del.icio.us Add to: StumbleUpon Add to: Slashdot Add to: Netscape Add to: Furl Add to: Yahoo Add to: Spurl Add to: Google Add to: Newsvine Add to: Blinkbits Add to: Ma.Gnolia