When Naval Lieutenant Ron Reuter first sailed to Pearl Harbor in Honolulu during his military service, which included two cruises to Vietnam, he couldn’t imagine that the beautiful state of Hawaii with its aloha spirit would become his home. From his home in Honolulu, he can look back on that time and also see the past twenty-five years that he has spent as part of the team at CFI. As we celebrate his silver jubilee anniversary, we thank him for his dedication, passion and leadership for the last two and a half decades.
“He is the best customer advocate I have ever known, and sometimes the lone voice to try and negotiate stand-offs between either side. It can be a really tough job, but he still gets up at 5 am every morning to start a new day,” shares Don Ehrlich, Director of Business Development.
After graduating from the University of Washington, Ron went to work for Yellow Freight lines in Seattle in a sales position. Two years later, he accepted a transfer to the Los Angeles terminal to serve as Sales Manager. As much as he enjoyed working on the trucking side of logistics, the deregulation of the air freight industry by the federal government was too enticing to ignore and Ron found a position with a small air freight company as Vice President of Sales.
That auspicious change introduced Ron to Alfred Kuehlewind, the owner of Commodity Forwarders, Inc. The two struck up a fast friendship despite essentially being competitors. After two years, Ron’s company was sold to Profit by Air, prompting him to open his own business, Air Perishable Forwarders, Inc.
“Alfred and I were competitors but still great friends. We’d see each other at trade shows and make a point to get together for a drink, dreaming about someday merging our companies. After ten years, that discussion became serious and in November of 1995, the entire staff of Air Perishables joined the CFI team,” Ron explains.
Those early days were a far cry from the CFI we know today. Because space was at a premium, Ron’s first “temporary” office at CFI-LA was a closet, just large enough to fit him and a visiting airline representative.
“Alfred was embarrassed to tell me he had no room for me to have an office but promised when he did I would have one. Those are the CFI memories that mean the most to us. I was building a business family and a networking family. After some time CFI took over the entire warehouse, new offices were added and good to his word in true Alfred fashion, he made sure I had an office.”
With that office came the position of Vice President of Sales and for several years Ron worked with the other CFI locations to increase sales revenue. Whether through acquisition or opening new facilities, the company continued to grow and Hawaii became a major revenue contributor.
“From my first time meeting Ron when I was a young San Francisco station manager, to today, his ability to be an advocate for our customers has been amazing,” recalls Chris Connell, Sr., Vice President, Perishables North America. “I appreciate Ron’s ability to be there at all hours, picking up a phone to talk through problems with customers then working with our teams to find solutions for the business. He has taken the ‘old school’ work ethic and, understanding the power of relationships, merged it with the ‘new school’ need to do so through technology and in such reminds us it’s all about doing it the right way or ‘good school’.”
On September 11, 2001, our entire industry changed after the attacks on the World Trade Center. “For almost four days we didn’t even know if we would still be in business. It was a terrible time but that actually made our industry better. We have become more sensitive to security and first with technological screening tools and now with the new canine screenings, it has given us more manpower to address other issues.”
In 2016, Alfred invited Ron to lunch to discuss Hawaii and the needs of such a special and diverse market asking him to focus his time and efforts in the state with the most CFI locations. Since Ron had a home in Oahu, he was able to physically spend more time working from there to build CFI’s in-state presence.
For the next four years, Ron divided his time between Hawaii and the mainland building the connections between stations and their teams.
“Ever since Ron joined CFI he has been a loyal employee,” says Alfred Kuehlewind, Vice President of Development, Hawaii. “ His biggest asset has always been the concern he shows toward his customer base. He makes himself available 24/7 to his clients and has put out many fires before they ever reached management. Having had his own company at one time, he is always concerned about expenses. His extensive experience has helped many of our employees and he has always had their trust.”
In March of 2020 a new crisis arose; COVID 19. The virus has certainly had an effect on in-person sales meetings and adversely impacted businesses in Hawaii. The tourist industry dropped first from hundreds of thousands of airport arrivals to empty airplanes and then a near-total evaporation of air service connecting Hawaii to the United States and the rest of the world.
“COVID-19 is a massive disrupter but we might see better practices come from this experience,” reflects Reuter. “I hope and pray that we, as resilient fighters, can put this behind us and move on stronger. Taking all precautions, wearing a mask, and washing your hands often, will help us beat this pandemic. We’re in this together. I believe in this team.”
Not only has Ron embodied the family spirit of CFI for twenty-five years, but he and his wife will also welcome a grandbaby on January 9, 2021, expanding the love in their hearts and their family.