Sartell man loses it all, but gains a new outlook on life
Ron Sanders (right) with his sons Doug and Bruce, and grandson, Adam. Ron was a millionaire a decade ago and lost it all. Along the way, he found what is most important in life.
Ron Sanders, of Sartell, has led an amazing life.
He dropped out of a university to work in a factory for Motorola. He became an alcoholic and turned down a major promotion after undergoing heart-bypass surgery at age 52. Yet he would also become a multimillionaire who partied with diplomats, won the Phoenix pro-am with John Daley, worked with the Harlem Globetrotters, and helped found (with Roger Bear) the 3M Classic Senior golf tournament, among many other accomplishments.
He would then lose everything: his home, his savings, his belongings, and his way of life. He lost it all, except for what matters most: his family, his appreciation for life, his spirit. Perhaps, his greatest accomplishment was in realizing what he still had.
“I’ve clearly realized that it’s not about money; it’s not about things,” Ron says, “It’s about people.”
For Ron, in many ways it has always been about people. Especially his wife, Sara, who he met when he returned to Bradley to finish his degree and who he credits with being the first and foremost steady influence throughout his life. They were married in 1964.
In addition, Ron simply enjoyed relating with people. A natural salesman, he returned to Motorola to become one, later advancing to regional sales manager.
Over the years, he would leave and return to Motorola several more times, each time coming back to a more important position. Eventually he would become national sales manager.
There were bumps along the way however, such as Ron’s increasing use of alcohol, leading him to quit drinking in 1973, (he is now a 40-year recovering alcoholic) and a bout with myocarditis, a heart infection, at age 35.
Ron, though, always seemed to land on his feet, even after his heart bypass led him to turn down a promotion (to national parts manager) that would have required him to move.
Instead, he was reassigned to a newly formed cellular phone division, just as cellular was poised to change the industry. “I came out smelling like a rose,” Ron smiles.
Then in 1983 he helped launch the first cellular system in the United States. At the time, Ron predicted, “the phone is going to go from the place to the person.”
In 1989, he was the managing director who brought wireless communications overseas to Eastern Europe. He became vice president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Budapest, Hungary.
This position involved more than sales and logistics, it involved diplomacy. “Just about every night I was with the ambassador …. or entertaining, wining and dining somebody,” Ron recalls.
Ron returned to the U. S. in 1991. In 1996, he began working for Sprint PCS as one of their five regional presidents. This led him to Indianapolis where he met Fred Treadway. He quickly set about working out a deal for Sprint to sponsor Treadway racing.
“From start to finish,” Ron recalls, “it was about 14 days between cutting a deal and winning the Indianapolis 500.”
This led to another of Ron’s favorite memories. Ron, Fred Treadway and Indy winner Arie Luyendyk were waiting to go to dinner when, as Ron remembers, “Arie says, how’d you like to take a lap in a pace car around the track?”
In 1998, Ron was promoted to president of all Sprint business and retail stores in the United States. Then, in 2000, the infamous Bernie Ebbers of World Com bought Sprint PCS.
Although, the Justice department would later block the sale, it led Ron to retire. “It triggered all of our stock options.” Ron said, “I was a multimillionaire.”
Then, finding he couldn’t sit still, Ron began working as a volunteer with Treadway racing. Even though his Sprint PCS stock fell from $65 a share to $2.58 a share, and cost him $2 to $3 million, Ron was still doing well financially.
Ron Sanders (right) at a fishing tournament in 2007, shortly before he lost everything.
Besides Treadway, Ron, a longtime supporter of Muskie, Inc. became chairman in 2008. He brought in Ron Shara and helped expand their tournament. Then in 2009, right after the Muskie, Inc. tournament, it all fell apart.
“I woke up to find out that my real estate wasn’t worth anything,” Ron remembers somberly, “and my stocks weren’t worth anything.”
“Unfortunately,” Ron goes on, “I was one of the stupid people that played [the market] like the banks did, and I had some of it on margin, and as the stock market went down, I continued to sell stuff to make margin calls.”
He had to sell his home at a loss, and finally, by 2010 he hit bottom. “I sold all my wedding rings, my Rolex, all the material things, Ron says, “lost my fishing boat, lost a car, lost everything.”
At first, it tore Ron apart, “I’ve been through some horrible times,” Ron says. Though he was never suicidal, sometimes he didn’t feel like life was worth living. Even his new business with his son Doug, in step graphics, wasn’t working out as planned.
So Ron, at 71, went back to work. He had helped found one of the PGA senior golf tournaments, now he went to work at a local golf club. Still, Ron found a silver lining.
“If I’m going to work for minimum wage I’m going to do something I really love,” Ron said. Sara also took a job at a craft store and loves it. They are both making new friends and doing something they enjoy.
In addition, Ron has adapted his step graphic business to form a new enterprise. He is optimistic that his new 3D Racetrack Graphics business will be a success.
Furthermore, Ron feels lucky just that he is able to work with racing and golf – two of his favorite pastimes. “I’m an alcoholic,” Ron says, “and sometimes along the way all these things are happening cause there’s a higher power.”
He has had to accept getting by with less, yet Ron enjoys contributing as he can, and whatever his financial future holds, he knows that with his wife, Sara, and sons, Bruce and Doug, he is truly blessed.